The young forward’s stock has risen further after scoring against Leeds United and Inter, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set to use him plenty this term
When Manchester United get their new Premier League campaign underway against Chelsea next Sunday they will want to quickly banish memories of their final Old Trafford showing of last season.
A 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City was an ignominious way to end an underwhelming 2018-19 effort, and the only bright spot that afternoon was the assured performance of Mason Greenwood on his full debut at the age of 17.
The academy product fired in seven shots in what felt at times like a one-man assault on the Bluebirds’ back line, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer later saying: “We’ll need players in, we’ll need some characters in, but you see Mason today: he’s made for Manchester United and a soccer professional we’ll see a lot of.”
Greenwood’s stock has risen ever higher during United’s 100 per cent run through pre-season so far. In a total of 194 minutes of action – the equivalent of just over two games – the young forward has sent in 12 shots, netted twice and generally proved to be a menace.
He has once more shown that his ability with both feet allied with a fearlessness when running at opposition defences can cause serious issues. While there undoubtedly remains a lot of rawness about his game, he has done more than enough to be considered as an option for Solskjaer in the opening weeks of the season.
There will, of course, be two major hints dropped over the coming days as to just what role Greenwood could play against Chelsea on the opening weekend. The manager has already said that Saturday’s final International Champions Cup match against Milan in Cardiff will feature something close to his very strongest line-up. “We’re going to have to play a top team because we want to go into the league knowing each other, some relationships being built,” he told MUTV.
Then there follows the under-21s’ first-ever involvement in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday when they visit Rotherham United, and the inclusion or otherwise of James Garner, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and particularly Greenwood will say much about their contention for the squad to face Chelsea five days later.
Beyond the first league match, though, it has been clear that Greenwood has been destined to be a part of the matchday scene with some regularity this term. The Bradford-born star will be given the opportunity to prove himself on the biggest stage having quickly outgrown the youth set-up.
He quickly cut a swathe through the under-18 level, scoring 22 goals in 18 games for Neil Ryan’s side last year, while former under-23s boss Ricky Sbragia admitted to Goal that his side has been little more than a stepping stone into the first team if players have already proven themselves in competitions like the UEFA Youth League.
“I think the European games are more important than our games, to be truthful with you, and I think it’s a great psychological test for us. How the European teams play and how we can deal with it, and in some cases maybe undermining what we have got against the likes of Valencia and Young Boys and Juventus, I think the group has done extremely well,” said Sbragia.
And while Sbragia has been replaced with Neil Wood and Quinton Fortune for the coming term, the club’s stance on under-23 football has been clear. As such, Greenwood will get all the senior treatment he deserves in 2019-20. Being exposed to first-team training with regularity will be a learning experience in itself. And with the Europa League giving Solskjaer the chance to experiment more than a Champions League campaign would, there has been every reason to believe Greenwood will be given his head this season.
There will, of course, be stumbling blocks along the way and Greenwood will be handled carefully so as not to expose him to too much too soon. He will be held back from the media, just as Sir Alex Ferguson prescribed for Ryan Giggs at a similar age, and Solskjaer has insisted he has been too good to be allowed to leave on loan.
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“Mason’s never been on my mind to send out on loan,” the Norwegian told reporters during pre-season. “He’s one that we have to keep at our place, keep him playing when we feel it’s good for him and at the moment he’s flying.
“He reminds me a little bit of the Giggsy story, you can’t really send him on loan and for me he’s ready to be in this squad.”
So expect to see a lot of Mason Greenwood in a Manchester United shirt in the weeks and months ahead. And if his story develops anything like that of Giggs, he may be around for some time to come.