By the time Charlie Savage, son of Robbie, was handed a Manchester United debut in the 89th minute, it was clear Ralf Rangnick was using his team’s final Champions League group game against Young Boys to take a look at as many players in his squad as possible. With United’s place in the last 16 already secured, this was an exploration mission.
This, of course, was clear as soon as Manchester United’s XI was released before kick off. There were places for Dean Henderson, Anthony Elanga, Jesse Lingard and Amad Diallo. While higher in the pecking order than the aforementioned names, Mason Greenwood was also given a chance to make a good impression on the new manager.
Greenwood made the most of that chance, scoring United’s only goal in the 1-1 draw in spectacular style. The strike made Greenwood the Old Trafford club’s top scorer in European competition under the age of 21, surpassing Marcus Rashford’s previous record of seven goals.
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It wasn’t just Greenwood’s sharpness in front of goal that caught the eye. Indeed, the 20-year-old was impressive throughout, giving Manchester United a real outlet in attack against a Young Boys side that struggled to deal with his movement and directness on the ball.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United faced a dilemma over where to play Greenwood. Their 4-2-3-1 system gave Solskjaer two choices - play the 20-year-old as a centre forward or on the right wing. Up front, Greenwood could sometimes find himself isolated while on the wing he offered little in the way of creativity.
With Rangnick now at the helm, though, the circumstances might be perfect for Greenwood to flourish as one of Manchester United’s most important players. There were signs of this in the draw against Young Boys when the German coach’s trademark 4-2-2-2 formation was a good fit for the 20-year-old.
Deployed as one half of a front two alongside the mobile Elanga, Greenwood looked comfortable. He carried a goal threat in the final third, demonstrated by his finish for the goal, but also demonstrated the willingness to drop deep and drift to link up with teammates. Greenwood was an attacking hub for United.
Of course, Rangnick’s team were far from perfect in their performance and the former RB Leipzig boss made that clear in his post-match remarks. “We should have been two if not 3-0 up,” he told BT Sport. “We had two great opportunities from Amad [Diallo] and Juan Mata. We were a bit sloppy in these situations.
“We had a third one from [Anthony] Elanga in the second half. We were not defending high enough, not proactive enough. We also could have conceded two or three goals. If the final score was 3-3 or 4-3 to us no one could have complained.”
Not every fringe figure given a chance to impress against Young Boys made the most of the chance. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, for instance, produced a ragged performance before suffering an injury on the stroke of the full-time whistle. Elanga also might have done more to prove himself worthy of the first team.
But Greenwood has given Rangnick plenty to ponder, and that’s surely what the interim Manchester United manager wanted from this match. If Rangnick has been hired to set up the Old Trafford club for the future, his most promising young player should be a part of his plans.
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