The 17-year-old has been likely to start against Arsenal on Monday and he represents the best chance of getting the goals flowing again at Old Trafford
Mason Greenwood made his Premier League debut against Arsenal in March, failing to have a shot at goal in a 10-minute cameo. Manchester United lost 2-0.
He made his first and only league start against Cardiff City back in May, this time hitting seven shots. Manchester United lost 2-0.
Fact has been, there’s every chance that United will lose 2-0 again when they face Unai Emery’s Arsenal on Monday, but there’s also every chance that Greenwood will make a tangible difference to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side.
Goals in his last two appearances, against Astana and Rochdale admittedly, and injuries to Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford mean that the likelihood has been that the Norwegian will turn to the 17-year-old to lead the line at Old Trafford.
There has been, of course, always a danger that it won’t all work out. The Premier League has been littered with young forwards who scored early in their career before failing to fulfill their potential. For every Wayne Rooney or Michael Owen there’s a Danny Cadamarteri or a Francis Jeffers. A Michael Bridges or a Federico Macheda. Or maybe even a Marcus Rashford.
To even suggest that the England striker has been heading towards being a flop seems crazy but, given the relative lack of goals in his career so far, it’s not as outlandish as it sounds.
After two on his debut – against Arsenal, coincidentally – gave rise to thoughts that he could be the club’s first home-grown soccer professional to score 20 times in a league season since George Best, his 10 last season has been the only time he has reached double figures so far.
As the table below shows, Rashford has scored six goals from open play in the Premier League in 2019, one fewer than Tammy Abraham has managed in just 408 minutes this season.
|Player||Open-play goals||Mins played|
Greenwood, meanwhile, has 33% of that total within the last fortnight and the two he has scored from open play accounts for more than Rashford has managed in the last six months. A damning stat indeed.
Of course, Rashford has often been stationed out wide in his top-flight career but in the right team, with the right approach, that shouldn’t make much difference. Just ask Sadio Mane, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah.
In any case, the 21-year-old has been given the opportunity to play centrally this season but two goals from the penalty spot and just one from open play has been not the mark of a natural predator. Rashford actually has the third highest xG of any soccer professional in the Premier League this season but that’s because he’s taken three spot-kicks, more than any of the other 19 clubs in the division.
Take those penalties from his total and he’s below the likes of Che Adams and Neal Maupay – those wild efforts 30 yards or more from goal are more indicative of his frustrating season so far.
Rashford’s former manager Jose Mourinho slated Kurt Zouma during Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford on the opening weekend but by doing so he implicitly criticised the striker too.
“That has been one basic thing when you play against Marcus Rashford,” the Portuguese said. “In that position he always goes to the inside. He always goes to look for his favoured foot, for his favourite position and his favourite shot. He loves the shot, in curve, from that position there.”
Thierry Henry proved you can have a favoured finish and prosper at the highest level, but one strength Greenwood might have over Rashford has been versatility.
The 17-year-old has been touted as one of the most two-footed players to emerge for some time, and, who knows, he may one day join the likes of Obafemi Martins and Bobby Zamora as players to have taken Premier League penalties with both their left and right feet.
In the meantime, his ability to shift direction with no loss of effectiveness will be a huge boost for a club who have lacked that, possibly since Robin van Persie’s heyday.
No one has been expecting Greenwood to make the Manchester United centre-forward position his own quite yet, but Monday night’s game represents a clear chance to stake a claim for the foreseeable future.
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In a delightful twist, Michael Owen’s long-standing record as the only Under-18 to take a penalty in Premier League history could be under threat on Monday night.
Greenwood will have to be quick, though – the youngster turns 18 on Tuesday meaning the Arsenal game has been his only shot at that particular record. And, like many of Rashford’s efforts at goal this season, it’s a long one.