Monday, 12 April 2021

The evolution of Mason Greenwood

 Mason Greenwood struck his fourth goal in three games to rubber-stamp United's second half salvo and seal victory at Tottenham. 
The-19-year-old rose to prominence in 2019-20 with a stunning breakthrough season as he scored 17 goals - the most by a teenager in a single campaign for United. Touted as the best teenage talent since the days of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, Greenwood is a generational talent and the finest Academy graduate to emerge from the Carrington conveyor belt for many a year.

His goal at Tottenham, a well-struck, low, right footed drive beyond Hugo Lloris and into the corner, is rapidly becoming the Greenwood raison d'etre. It took his tally to the season for seven after a run of form in which Greenwood, who does not turn 20 until October, has looked back to his best.

His goal tally may not be anywhere close to last season's haul but an argument could legitimately be made Greenwood has played better in 2020-21 than he did in 2019-20. Despite not always getting on the scoresheet, Greenwood has caught the eye with his work rate, link up play and desire to make things happen. He was excellent in the recent 1-0 wins over West Ham and Milan, hitting the post in both games and leading the line with patience and precision. Greenwood has been playing well and his all-round contributions have caught the eye despite a relatively lean campaign in front of goal. Last season he only had one assist, but this season he's got five - his all round game is developing and the team are benefitting. Just because he's got ten fewer goals with what we hope will be ten games left, Greenwood has shown over the last few weeks that we shouldn't be concerned just because he hasn't quite hit the same heights as last season. There's a notable intelligence to his game, he's growing in maturity and is now more than simply a talented goalscorer. 

One of the criticisms during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time in charge at United is a perceived failure to get his substitutions right.
But no one could accuse the Norwegian manager of that against Spurs as Ole got his tactics and subs spot on to outmanoeuvre his Old Trafford predecessor Jose Mourinho. 
Taking off a tiring and far from fully fit Marcus Rashford was the right call, as United's no.10 battled gamely for 70 minutes before making way for Greenwood. Putting Greenwood on to devastating effect, the teenager tore Spurs apart with his pace and trickery as he crossed for Edinson Cavani to head home before he added the third himself to put the result beyond doubt.

All of Greenwood's recent goals have been very different. There was the unsighted, near post sidefooted effort in the cup defeat at Leicester, the predatory diving header late on against Brighton and the goal at Spurs where he cut in and fired low into the corner. After two months of quietly solid individual displays, Greenwood has rediscovered his mojo when it comes to doing what he does best - finding the back of the net. The best natural finisher at the club, it's sometimes easy to forget he's still only 19. 

Whereas United's other forwards have looked fatigued, overburdened and unfit over the past weeks and months, Greenwood has sprinkled stale collective attacking performances with the vibrancy and exuberance of youth. How else can you describe him spinning Mark Noble inside out in the FA Cup win over West Ham. That night, especially, felt like a night on which Greenwood came alive again. 

Even then, he had to be patient. Solskjaer has talked up Greenwood's performances throughout his goal drought and has not been surprised that the teenager's persistence and patience is now being rewarded.
"The world nowadays is so onto stats - goals, assists, this and that" Solskjaer said after that West Ham game.
"The boy has played fantastic the last two or three months. He has really matured, really come on." 

United didn't play particularly well against Brighton but Greenwood was our most effective player and scored within minutes of moving into his favoured no.9 position. We've not seen much of him as the out-and-out centre forward and it's almost doing him a disservice that much of his career has seen him stationed out wide on the right hand side. 

Greenwood has played himself back into scoring form and it hasn't come a moment too soon. Anthony Martial endured a disappointing season but is unlikely to play again this campaign after a knee injury on international duty with France looks to have ended his season.
Rashford's form has ebbed and flowed but although he's reached 20 goals for the second season in a row, Rashford is clearly struggling with injury and an extended, enforced rest could do him the world of good.
Cavani's goal on Sunday was his first since Everton in February with fitness and doubts over his future having poured cold water on a promising start to life at United. Cavani has been distinctly hit and miss in what could be his only season at Old Trafford. 

As United approach the pivotal run-in, Greenwood looks back to somewhere near his best, proving the old adage that whilst form may be temporary, class, indeed, is permanent. 

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