Scott McTominay was making just his second UEFA Champions League start of the season as he put in an eye-catching performance during the first leg of Manchester United’s quarter-final tie against FC Barcelona last week.
That McTominay was the best player on the pitch in a 1-0 defeat for United sums up the type of game it was. But that shouldn't diminish the midfielder’s role in the side and his coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, will be looking for repeat performances between now and the end of the season.
The regard in which he’s held by the Red Devils' coaching staff was evident when he was left out of the starting line-up against West Ham last weekend.
McTominay was being rested with Tuesday’s second-leg in Barcelona in mind.
"He's a young boy and that mental and physical output he gave us on Wednesday night, and he'll probably be needed on Tuesday night,” Solskjær explained.
"Scotty needed a rest today [vs West Ham]. It's built around Wednesday night and today. It was a hard, tough night, physically and mentally.”
In the first leg, he completed four dribbles, almost as many as the rest of the United team put together, and showed a side of his game which isn’t usually seen. He was a general menace in the centre of the park, on and off the ball.
He finished the game having won all of his aerial duels, making five ball recoveries, and with a pass success of 84 per cent.
A lot of what was good about his play won’t be shown in the stats, and one of the most important things from the club’s point of view is that he wasn’t overawed by the big occasion.
Here he was playing against seasoned internationals such as Ivan Rakitić and Philippe Coutinho, as well as FIFA World Cup winner Sergio Busquets. Still, he emerged as arguably the best midfielder on the park on the night.
McTominay’s words after the first-leg defeat suggested he was relishing the chance to play at the iconic Camp Nou on Wednesday.
"Barcelona are top class,” he told BT Sport after the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford.
“It's difficult to get the ball. It's not as easy as going out to press like mayhem. We have to do more in front of goal, score more. It's a big second leg to go. It's only half time. We’re United and you can never write us off.”
In the end, Lionel Messi's class told and Barça progressed 3-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate. But there isa far bigger picture. With Nemanja Matić slowing, McTominay is the ideal replacement, and he’s got greater ability to get between the boxes than the Serbian.
The 22-year-old is someone United can rely on going forward, and other players should be bought to play alongside him in the coming years.
He is unlikely to win many awards for individual brilliance, but Old Trafford appreciate players of McTominay's ilk – Darren Fletcher or Park Ji-Sung, for example – who knit everything else together.
A tall, battling player in the centre of the park, the Scottish international could be a fixture of this United midfield for years to come.
Plenty has been made of Solskjær's links to the great Sir Alex Ferguson. The Norwegian has been quick to highlight them, after all.
For all Ferguson's success, the Scot continued the club's proud tradition of incorporating homegrown players into his side wherever possible and it would be fitting if Solskjær, a proud student of United's most successful coach, continued in that vein by leaning heavily on McTominay.
Whatever happens between now and the end of the season for Manchester United it's clear they have a bright future under Solskjær – and McTominay is just the latest beacon of light emanating from Old Trafford.