The Manchester United youth academy is perhaps one of the world’s best. It has been the source of some of the world’s finest players. Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Paul Scholes are a few of the many world-class talents that United have produced. In recent years, the likes of Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, and Axel Tuanzebe have all come through the ranks. This season, of course, has brought about Brandon Williams and Tahith Chong. Simply put, their academy continues to produce excellent young talent regularly.
However, a young forward by the name of Mason Greenwood may be the most special of them all. The 18-year-old is one of the best young talents in world football and many around Carrington have known this for some time. Greenwood has scored 14 goals thus far in the season, which is exceptional for an 18-year old that has not yet found his peak. His talent is perhaps better than the likes of Rashford and others and he has all the hallmarks to be a United great.
When Manchester United sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter Millan, there was a huge scare that a replacement was not brought in. Greenwood has helped with his goals this season and has taken the pressure of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. It has been an important season for Greenwood’s development as he has played several different positions in different systems. This has all enhanced his football education and, similar to what Marcus Rashford has experienced in terms of playing in different positions, will benefit him greatly. The most striking aspect of his game is the level of maturity he continues to show. To see him play is to see an 18-year-old with the brain of an experienced pro. His talent is something that needs to be protected from a Manchester United perspective and he needs to continue with his development and play more minutes. This coupled with what can only be described as once in a lifetime talent will eventually see him become one of the best forwards in the world.
This scout report will look at Mason Greenwood’s breakthrough season at Old Trafford. The tactical analysis will look at how he has managed to put himself in a position whereby he is challenging to get into the Manchester United first team. This analysis will also look at the tactics that have been put in place to get the best of his exceptional talents and how he has managed to fit into the Manchester United first team.
Finding a pass
Greenwood’s technical ability is second to none. His ability to score goals, as will be mentioned later, in many different fashions is amazing for someone his age. An aspect of his game that perhaps goes under the radar is his ability to find a pass in key areas. United often operate in a 4-2-3-1, meaning that Greenwood is often given the role on the right-hand side. With this, however, he often drifts into more central positions to get involved with the build-up play. In these positions, he can find key passes into attacking areas whereby the other forwards can get on the end of them to hopefully score. This is something that has been seen throughout his time playing in the United first team, and it has been significant in his footballing development. Greenwood himself is someone of great footballing intelligence and has amazing technical ability when the ball is at his feet. This has therefore really helped him in terms of finding key passes into attacking areas.
Below is an example from a game against Manchester City in the League Cup. Greenwood started on the right, however, as we can see he is operating very centrally to get closer to the central striker. He can find a great pass into the feet of Marcus Rashford who eventually scores. This assist is an example of the excellent passing range that Greenwood has at his disposal. Coming off the right helps him to do this and moving forward he should look to incorporate this into his game more often.
As mentioned, a key aspect of his passing is the system that Manchester United play. Often, the two wider players in the attacking setup will come narrow to be able to engage in link-up play. This once again helps Greenwood in many ways, as he is not what we would associate with a traditional winger. Marcus Rashford, for example, is excellent in wider areas, as his pace, skill, and ability in one v ones are exceptional. Greenwood is different and relies on his football IQ to find spaces and create chances cutting in on his deadly left foot. This, therefore, allows him to find passes at a much more regular rate. Although he only has four assists, if some of the chances he had created had been converted by the likes of Martial and Rashford, this figure would be a lot higher. This aspect of his game highlights his maturity, as attacking players of this ilk tend not to develop such passing ability until much later in their career.
Below is another example of his chance creation. We can see him cutting in from the wider area to push a ball through to Rashford at the back post. This eventually finds him and United score. These crosses and passes across the box are commonplace for Greenwood and he enjoys finding them at a regular rate. It’s great to see such unselfishness at such a young age and if he can continue producing key passes, his assist numbers are likely to skyrocket as a result.
Runs in behind
When we look at Greenwood in comparison to other forwards similar to him in terms of age, output and positioning, it is clear to see that Greenwood is not as naturally quick as others. Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all much quicker than Greenwood and despite him still being extremely quick when running forward, it is not his main attribute. However, when analysing the runs he makes in behind it was clear to see that his positioning and know-how in terms of making the right run at the right time was second to none. This ability to make the right run at the right time is something that very few footballers possess. It isn’t necessarily about being strong and quick, it’s about using your brain to get an advantage against the defender. This is something that Greenwood has and it once again highlights his excellent footballing IQ.
Below is a great example of this is in slightly different circumstances. We can see Rashford with the ball on the right-hand side. Before he has even moved his foot to cross the ball Greenwood knows where it is going to go and he can tap it in. This may seem like a very basic piece of analysis, however, it could easily be the case that 9/10 forwards would look to make a run in front of the central defender. Furthermore, a lot of forwards would time the run way too early and get caught offside, however, Greenwood’s timing is spot on and it further highlights his exceptional footballing IQ.
Making runs in behind does not always require large amounts of pace. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer were able to do so without being blessed with a lot of pace. Greenwood is a perfect example of this and his runs often are made from central areas. It is, of course, harder to do this when playing off the right, as when he plays there he is required to be more central in order to create chances. However, when Greenwood plays through the middle he has the freedom to make runs in behind the defensive line. This is something he tries to do often when he plays through the middle, with it working to great effect more times than not. The service he receives is also crucial. Before Bruno Fernandes joined United, there were not many players that could find him when he made such runs. However, since the arrival of Fernandes and as a result of the increase in United’s form, he has been found more often.
Below is an example of this in a Europa League game. We can see Chong playing an excellent pass into the path of Greenwood who is able to finish very well. Notice the positioning he takes up in this image, as he is right on the line when he makes the run. This allows him space and the opportunity to get away from the defenders quicker. Having this quality makes Greenwood stand out when it comes to looking at United’s forwards. Martial and Rashford do not have this ability, although they have others that make up for that.
This aspect of Greenwood’s game links in with the earlier point of running in behind. The key theme behind his ability to find space and to make intelligent runs, all falls under the same theme of having an awareness of spaces around him. In terms of finding the space itself, it is clear to see Greenwood has a special ability that is rarely seen. When we think about creating space in attacking areas of the pitch, we traditionally think of attacking midfielders such as David Silva, Bruno Fernandes and others that operate as central attacking midfielders. Greenwood is not this type of player, yet he seems to be able to find spaces in the same manner that some of the best attacking midfielders manage to find. This highlights his range of technical ability. This especially helps Greenwood when he is playing off the right in a 4-2-3-1 as he cuts in almost every time.
Below is an excellent example of the spaces which Greenwood attempts to find on a regular basis. This is especially the case from outside the box on the right-hand side. In this game against Everton, Greenwood was able to score from the chance we can see in the image. He picks up the ball in this area and manages to score fantastically. The type of finish that he produced in this image and that he has produced in many other games is something the Premier League has not yet seen.
When Manchester United go forward on the counter-attack, finding the key spaces is essential to turn chances into goals. Greenwood suits the United counter-attacking system, as he can create space not only for himself but for others in front of him to run into. Furthermore, the likes of Fernandes, Daniel James, and Rashford are all players that all enjoy interchanging and moving about to confuse defenders. This suits Greenwood in many ways, as he loves rotation in terms of his positioning in different areas of the attacking setup. Popping up in different positions allows him to create spaces all across the pitch to give United an advantage when counter-attacking. His talent matched with a system that suits him can only provide positive results going forward.
Below is a great example of this from the 3-0 home win against Watford. We can see Greenwood positioned in the central attacking midfield role, with a lot of space around him to shoot. This is not by coincidence and he has created the space in which to shoot. His positioning, coupled with the excellent runs made by the other attacking players means that he can let off a rocket from his left foot which travels right into the top corner. This, therefore, is evidence that playing in this current United setup is suited to his excellent ability.
When doing analysis, trying to highlight a player’s finishing is often hard to do with simple pictures and arrows highlighting how the ball travelled into the net. It is easier, as seen with the earlier points made, to look at the positions players take up and the way they pass the ball etc. Mason Greenwood’s finishing is perhaps the best that Manchester United has seen in a long time. In the introduction, it was mentioned that there is often a comparison with Robin van Persie. However, Greenwood is unique in this sense and his style of finishing is something that has not been seen before. Never have United fans been so confident that when Greenwood gets the ball in a certain area, a goal is going to happen. Greenwood is a world-class finisher, with the ability to score a goal from almost anywhere in the attacking zone. His technique of essentially slowing down time before slotting the ball into a corner is sublime and it is a weapon that makes him stand out compared to others.
Below is an example of his finishing in a 4-1 victory over Newcastle United. The yellow arrow is an indicator of where the ball eventually ends up after striking it. It is hit with such power and accuracy that even though it is near the goalkeeper, it manages to go in. This is a great indicator as to the levels seen in Greenwood’s finishing. If he continues to develop in the way he has done so far, expect to see many goals similar to this in the near future.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær said once that Mason Greenwood was the best finisher at the club, ahead of both Rashford and Martial. When looking at the goals that Greenwood has scored this season, it is hard to disagree with this. Although Martial and Rashford are exceptional footballers, Greenwood is a better finisher than both. This is nothing against Rashford and Martial, however, as it highlights the ability that Greenwood has in front of the goal. The goals he has scored this season have all been fantastic. There hasn’t been what would be described as a ‘scruffy goal’. All Greenwood’s goals are thought out, calculated, and scored with devastating effect. This sets him apart from the other forwards at the club and maybe is an explanation as to why United haven’t dived into the market for another striker.
Below is another example of Greenwood’s finishing technique. This is perhaps the best one but the hardest to illustrate with pictures. As he gets the ball in this area, instead of going into the far corner where the goalkeeper expects it to, he can cut the ball back into the near post, depicting once again his god-given talent to score goals such as this one. This a great illustration as to the excellent finishing that Greenwood has. These goals are not easy to score at all, and credit can only be given to Greenwood for managing to score such excellent goals.
To conclude, Mason Greenwood’s breakout season in English football has been fantastic to date. His footballing intelligence is fantastic and this has helped him play a number of different positions and contribute to the Manchester United frontline. If he is able to continue this development at such a fast rate, he will quickly go on to become one of the best forwards in world football. Watching Mason Greenwood live at Old Trafford is something special, as we are seeing the emergence of another product of the Manchester United youth academy which continues to bless our beautiful game with exceptional talents such as Greenwood. Hopefully, he can continue this going forward and with the counter-attacking system that Ole has in place which has seen him get 14 goals, the best is yet to come.