Mason Greenwood has everything Manchester United need in a striker

“For me the star of the show was Greenwood. For a young man that’s sensational. That boy is a finisher and he’s going to be a top player,” said Graeme Souness after Manchester United’s 5-1 win over Leeds. Bruno Fernandes scored a hat-trick and Paul Pogba set up four goals, but Souness was right to single out Greenwood for special praise.

He was the recipient of one of Pogba’s assists and, while the through ball was sublime, the carry and finish from the 19-year-old was emphatic. Greenwood still had plenty to do when he picked up possession 30 ゴールからのヤード. His finishing has always been outstanding, so it wasn’t a surprise when Greenwood found the bottom corner, but the manner of the goal felt different: a step up. Missing Euro 2020 with injury must have been disappointing for Greenwood, but the break looks to have served him well.

“He’s turned into a man,” said Solskjær after the match when asked about how Greenwood has improved since last season. “He’s filling out, he’s stronger. His stride is stronger. When he ran away from the defender and scored his goal, it was a joy to see.”

Greenwood started the run for his goal before Pogba had the ball out of his feet. Aware of the space, and Pogba’s ability to find him, he only had one thing in his mind. Not only did he overtake Pascal Struijk, he moved clear of the Leeds defender with the ball at his feet. That was the most striking part. Greenwood has always been quick, but not quite as fast as Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial. He finished the game with five successful dribbles, his best return in a game for United.

That was his 18th goal in the プレミアリーグ, taking him to fifth in the list of the highest scoring teenagers in the competition’s history. Greenwood turns 20 at the start of October, so he won’t catch Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler or Wayne Rooney, but the fact he is in such celebrated company shows what a special talent he is.

The start of last season was tough for Greenwood, on and off the pitch. There were questions about his professionalism after he was sent home from the England squad in Iceland and he had only scored one Premier League goal by the end of March. By that point defenders seemed to be wise to his strengths. He has had to find new ways of scoring. Clinical finishes, with either foot, had defined his career but against Leeds his performance was much more than that. The Leeds defenders did not know whether he would play off the shoulder, drop deep or peel into the channels.

Greenwood has only set up three league goals in his career, but he looks likely to pick up more assists this season. In the first half against Leeds he carved out a great opportunity for Pogba from deep and then slid Dan James through in the penalty box for another. After the interval, as well as scoring his own goal by dragging Leeds centre-back Struijk out to United’s left wing, he had a hand in Fred’s goal. He dropped deep and brought the Leeds defence with him, allowing Pogba to run in behind and feed Fred.

He is not the most imposing centre-forward by any means, but he still led the line with personality, as Gary Neville would describe it. He rode challenges that would have stopped him last season; he finished the match with a better pass success rate than any other United player (88%); and he now has seven goals in his last eight Premier League starts.

We are only one game into the season so Solskjær should not get carried away but there was so much for him to enjoy about Saturday. The electric atmosphere started with Raphaël Varane’s unveiling and never subsided. Pogba and Fernandes were sensational and Jadon Sancho, who was given a few minutes at the end, is still to come.

There was a party atmosphere in the ground by the end but it’s worth remembering that Greenwood was under a lot of pressure going into the game. He rose to the occasion. Solskjær sold Romelu Lukaku to create a pathway for Greenwood and turned down the chance to sign a new striker this summer with the teenager in mind. With Rashford unavailable until October, and both Martial and Edinson Cavani still not fully fit, Greenwood now has the opportunity to put a real stamp on this United team. There are exciting times ahead for United.