Opinion: Refreshed Greenwood could be key
Mason Greenwood is yet to play in a top-flight Manchester derby, but the 19-year-old could find himself spearheading United’s attack when Pep Guardiola’s side travel across town on Saturday.
The England international featured in both legs of our Carabao Cup semi-final with City in 2019/20, but wasn’t called upon in the back-to-back victories over the Blues in the Premier League.
He’s in with a great chance of starring on Saturday though, with the involvement of Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani still unclear due to injury, and Greenwood looking refreshed and revitalised after a rest during November’s international break.
Mason netted his first top-flight goal of this campaign at the London Stadium last weekend, helping the Reds recover to beat West Ham United 3-1.
Because Greenwood’s lightning-quick turn-and-finish – which utterly bamboozled Hammers keeper Lukasz Fabianski – bore all the hallmarks of an established centre-forward, it’s easy to forget just how green our no.11 still is.
In scoring at West Ham, Mason became the third-youngest United player ever to reach 20 goals for the club, behind only Northern Ireland prodigies Norman Whiteside and George Best.
He is also one of only eight teenagers to hit that mark for the Reds, joining club legends like Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, as well as current team-mate Marcus Rashford.
Mason was unlucky not to build on his impressive tally, when he was arguably United’s best player in the dramatic Champions League defeat in Leipzig on Tuesday.
Playing as part of a strike duo with Rashford, Greenwood was heavily involved, dropping deep to influence the play and causing issues with his incisive runs, as the Reds worked hard to overturn a three-goal deficit.
Mason had two efforts saved by Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and won the 80th-minute penalty which was converted by Bruno Fernandes to spark a grandstand finish at Red Bull Arena.
The youngster played the full game for only the second time this season – the first was at West Ham – and 43 per cent of his minutes in 2020/21 have come since mid-November.
After a difficult start to the shortened campaign, Greenwood is now putting in performances similar to those we saw post-Project Restart, when he netted in three consecutive league appearances and won our Player of the Month award for July.
Of course, with such a young player, rises and dips in form are par for the course, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer noted earlier this week, but the boss must be encouraged by Mason’s recent bright performances, while England boss Gareth Southgate has also praised Mason recently.
“He’s still young and he’s still learning, but he’ll only improve with the quality of experience and the characters that we have around him, in and around the team,” Ole said.
“It’s exciting to work with him.”
Manchester derbies have proved fruitful for United youngsters in the past – think Rashford at the Etihad in 2016, and Giggs back in 1991 – and Reds will be hoping history repeats itself, if Mason gets the nod this weekend.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.