He may be wearing the number 11, but Mason Greenwood’s future is undoubtedly number 9. The only question is: does it have to be for Manchester United now?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s shocking departure means United now have one of the greatest goalscorers in history in their ranks, and at 36 he can no longer pound up and down the wing, so he has to start as a striker.
Still, Greenwood was impressive for the Red Devils with two goals in as many Premier League appearances to start the new season. The 19-year-old has shown his unerring finishing ability with the way he has scored both goals.
Mason Greenwood has started the season well in attack for Manchester United
Greenwood opened his account for the term with this brilliant finish in a 5-1 win over Leeds
He then followed it up with another goal – this time to earn United a point against Southampton
In the opening day’s 5-1 win against Leeds, he flew past Pascal Struijk before firing low into the bottom right corner on the run. And last Sunday he showed his poaching instincts with a close range effort that squirmed in to give United a point in a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
In both games, Greenwood was used differently by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In the thumping home win over Leeds, the attacker was used as the central striker, while on the south coast he was deployed to the right of the front three.
Is it a coincidence that United lost points due to a change in Greenwood’s positioning? Not quite, as the team lacked creativity – especially in midfield thanks to Fred and Nemanja Matic. However, the visitors certainly missed Greenwood’s clever move more central as opposed to the more static Anthony Martial.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to United means Greenwood is no longer the club’s top finisher, and Greenwood’s chances of playing as a striker have diminished
Solskjaer has a habit of tinkering with his starting players and they don’t always have the desired effect – as last weekend’s result showed.
Martial was ineffective at first as he was mainly not receiving service, but he often seems more at ease on the left side of a front line than as a focal point – many believe he lacks the clinical touch of a Greenwood, for example.
United legend Rio Ferdinand was devastating to his former team-mate Solskjaer for not using Greenwood centrally from the start against Southampton.
Ferdinand praised Greenwood for his ‘funny’ performance against Leeds, but was baffled as to why the teenager was pushed wide the following week – Solskjaer’s tactics labeled ‘baffling’.
Against Leeds, Greenwood played as a number 9, but was moved to the right wing vs Southampton
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) decided last Sunday to start Anthony Martial up front
“Mason Greenwood might be our best player since we got back,” the ex-defender said on his YouTube channel FIVE.
“In one of the pre-season games I saw, I think against Everton, and the two games we’ve played in the league, he’s [unbelievable].
“The man has come back stronger, fitter, better, he’s growing into a man of a boy – so why shift him from center to front to bring in Anthony Martial? I do not understand.
“He is the goal getter. [Edinson] Cavani is not fit; Greenwood, put him at number 9, I think he’s good enough to do that.
“So to play him wide again, that was the only baffling thing to me.”
United legend Rio Ferdinand believes Greenwood is best suited as a centre-forward
It is difficult to refute Ferdinand’s analysis. Of the forwards available to Solskjaer, Greenwood was the only one to have a full preseason. Cavani has had a long off-season break, Marcus Rashford is injured, while Martial’s start was his first for United since March 21 – a 3-1 defeat in the FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester.
If Martial looked like on the south coast, you can point to a lack of a preseason. Just a week after the loss at Leicester, the striker suffered a knee injury during his international service with France.
Five months without the start of a competition, with of course a summer break, is not ideal. Greenwood worked up front with devastating effect against Leeds and in retrospect says he should have been given the chance to remain key man for the trip to Southampton.
Starting Greenwood in the middle could have brought Jadon Sancho £73million over the summer to make his full-length debut or let Dan James keep his place after being in the starting squad that thrashed Leeds.
And then, with a tiresome Southampton backline, Martial could have developed his match fitness by coming on in the second half.
Edinson Cavani also returns to full fitness, which will hurt Greenwood’s chances too
Until the arrival of Ronaldo, Greenwood was the top finisher at the club and Solskjaer spoke recently about how the teenage boy is physically turning into a ‘man’.
“I think you can see how much work he’s put in in his pre-season, in his summer, he’s turned into a man,” said an ecstatic Solskjaer after the win over Leeds.
‘He adds, he’s stronger. His stride is stronger and you know when he walked away from the defender and scored his goal it was a joy to watch.
‘His approach, attitude and application, everything he does every day is getting better and better and I think that is also maturity in the boy.’
Many United fans hope Greenwood will start as center forward for Sunday’s trip to Wolves
United travel to Wolves in the Premier League on Sunday and it won’t be a surprise if Solskjaer is tinkering with his squad again.
They missed a lead against Southampton and Greenwood can help rectify that if they get the number 9 roll.
Until Ronaldo is ready, Cavani is back and Martial returns to some form of form, he is the best man for the position. United have already dropped points in the title race and cannot afford to do it again so early in the season if they have ambitions to challenge.
But outside the Wolves game, Solskjaer has a real headache now. How can he ensure that Greenwood’s development is not hampered by the arrival of Ronaldo?
Yes, the presence of the Portuguese on the training pitch will ensure Greenwood get the best possible understanding of the mindset it takes to become a great player, and their friendly competition on the training pitch to top off the bragging rights would be a sight to behold and could elevate the English. the youngster’s scoring ability even further.
But what Greenwood needs most for his development at the moment is time on the field at number 9. He is already a top scorer and he will only improve his skills as a main striker by regularly taking on the best central halves of the game. Minutes in the League Cup, while Ronaldo and Cavani share duties in the Premier League and the Champions League, are not enough.