Getty Images

Mason Greenwood

Manchester United, 2018-

The future of English football appears bright. Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka, Declan Rice, Phil Foden and many more provide plenty of reason for optimism, and the conveyor belt of young, English talent shows no sign of letting up.

Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, the youngest Englishman to make more than one appearance in any of Europe’s top five leagues in 2019/20, and the Premier League’s youngest scorer in that campaign, is up there with the brightest talents of them all.

“The closer he gets to goal, the more dangerous he is. Right foot, left foot, he is a nightmare for defenders,” says his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “He needs to develop his heading. Then he can be a proper striker. I’ve seen a few good ones – I played with Wayne Rooney – but for natural finishing, Mason’s one of the best I’ve seen. He is so precise.”

Tactical analysis
Greenwood has been one of the main beneficiaries of Solskjaer’s insistence on trusting in the quality of the players produced by Manchester United’s academy – as witnessed when coming off the bench to make his first-team debut in the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie away at Paris Saint-Germain in February 2019. The United squad was depleted for that match, and the team in desperate search of a late goal to take them through – but Solskjaer still had the belief to throw Greenwood in at the deep end.

Then just 17 years of age, Greenwood showed no sign of nerves after his late introduction – and nor has he since. He is primarily a goal-scorer, but one who strikes the ball with an assurance that suggests he shares his manager’s confidence in his own ability. He looks like a player who feels he belongs at the top already.

He has to this point in his nascent career looked most comfortable stationed on the right side of attack – either on the right of a front three or as a centre-forward who naturally moves out to that side. When one-on-one with a defender, he is brilliant at working himself half a yard of space before getting a shot off.

He requires very little backlift when shooting (below), and he hits through the ball to generate impressive power with seemingly little effort – in that sense, and perhaps that sense alone, his technique is reminiscent of Jermain Defoe, who succeeded largely thanks to his ability to get shots off quickly. Combine that with the precise finishing Solskjaer has spoken of, and genuine composure, and you have a lethal centre-forward at just 18 years old.

Role at Manchester United
Greenwood tends to play on the right side of the United attack, but he likes having the freedom to move into central positions in search of the ball. Given more game time in the absence of the injured Marcus Rashford, Greenwood has already built up a strong understanding with Bruno Fernandes, who has become a key cog in knitting moves together at Old Trafford.

Though Greenwood is at his best in front of goal, he does plenty of positive work coming off the right flank on to his stronger left foot to link play – particularly through swift one-twos with a more advanced teammate to get on the ball in space between the lines and facing goal. In United’s most commonly seen 4-2-3-1 formation, he is adept at creating overloads alongside the central attacking midfielder – usually Fernandes – and the striker, and therefore provides a threat on goal even when he gets on the ball in deep, wide positions.

Although he can be let down by his weight of pass and decision-making when trying to play a teammate in under pressure (below), he has already shown his threat when getting shots away from distance. Four of his 13 United goals in 2019/20 – or 31 per cent – have come from outside the box.

The reality, however, is that he can’t continue to rely on long-range shots and can instead increase his return in front of goal by improving his movement inside the penalty area. This is where Solskjaer – a former United striker himself – could prove the perfect mentor.

There have been signs Greenwood is improving in this respect, but his changes of speed to attack the box and movement on to the blind side of defenders still need work. He rarely gets on the end of crosses or offers a threat close to goal, either; in 29 Premier League and Europa League appearances in 2019/20, he has had 39 shots – but only two of these have come inside the six-yard box. A natural ball-striker he may be, but he does not yet look like an arch poacher.

The majority of Greenwood’s goals have come with his left foot – 11 of the aforementioned 13, to be precise – and at times he does appear a little too one-footed. However, as Solskjaer has attested, Greenwood is also a threat with his right and can shift the ball on to either foot before shooting – a huge part of what makes him so difficult to defend against. He is so confident with his weaker right foot, in fact, that in the FA Cup win at Tranmere in January, Greenwood took his 56th-minute penalty with his right – and scored.

His tendency to come off the right can drag a defender with him, as they don’t want to let him turn and run at goal, and Greenwood often plays horizontal balls infield as a result, often switching play adeptly (above). When he is tracked, space is created in the channel he has vacated either for right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka to attack, or for Greenwood to spin off and exploit himself. This could become a significant strength as Solskjaer and United develop their attacking patterns.

When the manager decided to sell Romelu Lukaku and loan Alexis Sanchez to Inter Milan in the summer, there were understandably some doubts about the capabilities of the young players who would necessarily be promoted to the first team to deputise. Greenwood isn’t yet a leading Premier League striker, but he is already starting to show his manager was right to trust in him. To have established himself at 18 at a club like Manchester United is testament to his significant ability, and also that he looks destined for the very top of the game.

Mason Greenwood


Ryan Giggs: Part I

Manchester United favourite Ryan Giggs exclusively gives his tactical insights into the different teams that won so many honours under Sir Alex Ferguson

Premier League statistical analysis: Manchester United’s defence

Manchester United’s vastly improved defence has transformed their prospects under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. We assess the secrets to their success

Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate exclusively revisits England’s draw with Spain, when Liverpool and Real Madrid players were particularly influential, in this Masterclass