“Mason’s one of the best finishers I’ve seen and I’ve played with a few decent ones.”
Big talk from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back in September before picking Mason Greenwood in his XI for the first time this season. Three goals in four starts later means the time has come to let us decide for ourselves. And we can’t judge the teenager on the odd Premier League cameo.
Greenwood’s third goal of the season got United going in the Europa League victory over Partizan Belgrade, a side who like AZ Alkmaar before them restricted United to not a single shot on target in open play. In contrast, here on a filthy night at Old Trafford, United had something approaching a swagger about them.
Stung by justified criticism after yet another impotent performance at Bournemouth at the weekend, Solskjaer went strong as he sought to secure passage into the Europa League last 32. Greenwood and Juan Mata aside, this was United’s Premier League team looking to make Europa League progress. The consequence was more than just the odd goal at home for the first time since the opening day of the season and seven first-half chances – more than they have created in the opening 45 minutes of any domestic game aside from the August trip to Southampton.
Marcus Rashford wasted a couple of those opportunities before Greenwood brought the necessary composure to the Partizan penalty area. Rashford, though, can take credit for driving at the visitors, something he did with a vigour rarely shown by United this season. When the ball squeezed through to Greenwood, the 18-year-old took three touches, each one sending Partizan keeper Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way.
It was very similar to Greenwood’s other strikes in the United first team. Like United’s only goals against Astana and Rochdale, the Yorkshire lad controlled the ball in the tightest area on the pitch, shifted it from side to side, before applying the kind of ruthless finish that Solskjaer has waxed lyrical about.
Mason Greenwood scores AGAIN 🙌
Man Utd go up 1-0 after the youngster reacts quickest and finishes with ease! pic.twitter.com/ltARzN3Irw
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 7, 2019
“He’s still very young but he’s maturing,” said Solskjaer in his next breath after hyping up Greenwood’s finishing capability. “In the last six months since I came in, I remember the kid who just wanted to play with his mates in the under-18s and now he’s knocking on the door.”
Indeed, Greenwood does appear to be feeling his way into senior action. In the Under-23s, the England Under-21 forward carries himself with the self-assured swagger of a talent who knows he’s better than this. In Solskjaer’s first XI, there have been times when he has taken the easy option, laid it back, or gone square. United have plenty of senior players too willing to do that – Solskjaer should be encouraging Greenwood to be himself.
The more familiar he becomes with first-team involvement, the quicker he will feel comfortable. Because there is no doubt that he belongs.
Similar applies to United’s other youngsters. Solskjaer has never missed a chance to emphasise his faith in youth but his domestic selections don’t back up the chat. None of Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tatith Chong, James Garner or Brandon Williams have started a Premier League game this term. Chong and Gomes would likely benefit from a January loan, but Garner could certainly offer whatever it is Fred brings to the first XI, while Williams, a more defensive left-back than Ashley Young, deserves more opportunities in Luke Shaw’s absence. Young and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s positioning tonight, however, leaving United with a defensive box rather than a line, suggests Williams may have to wait.
But there is little point in holding back Greenwood to the same extent. “I just don’t want to put too much pressure on him,” said Solskjaer a few sentences after describing why the teenager is among the best he’s seen. Greenwood’s talent is no secret anymore. It’s time to share it with the Premier League too.