The weather was as forgettable as the football in M16 on Wednesday night but it feels like every Champions League night needs a viral moment to enliven it and Mason Greenwood provided that for Manchester United.
Ralf Rangnick’s decision to pick an unconventional team to face Young Boys, featuring 11 changes and just seven of a possible 12 substitutes, showed how far down the order of importance this game was for United.
Right now training sessions at Carrington are more valuable for the first-team regulars, but of those brought into what was essentially a B-team, Greenwood is the one who is probably closest to changing his status.
The 20-year-old has found himself in this position due to his recent bout of Covid-19 but the elasticity with which he brilliantly converted Luke Shaw’s cross in the first half suggested he’s now fighting fit.
Against Crystal Palace Greenwood came on in a No. 10 role but if Rangnick sticks with his 4-2-2-2 shape then there looks to be a role for the precocious academy graduate at centre forward, a partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo that combines two players at either end of the age spectrum but with a gap in talent that could shorten significantly over the next two seasons.
Marcus Rashford will certainly feel Greenwood’s breath on his neck after this performance, even if it was in a game that got worse – from a United point of view – as the severity of the rain increased.
They were anonymous as an attacking force in the second half but by then Greenwood had done his best work. Starved of the ball in the final 45 minutes, there was little chance to dazzle.
He’d already left his mark on the fixture, however. Shaw’s cross in the ninth minute was promising but it needed Greenwood to quickly adjust his footwork before springing backwards to slam home a volley. It met with the Rangnick seal of approval.
But the moment that might have most encouraged the interim manager came later in the half and didn’t result in a goal at all. It certainly fit the template for Rangnick’s philosophy, however.
Mohamed Ali Camara was in possession on the right as Young Boys tried to play out from the back, but Greenwood pressed him cleverly, boxing him into the touchline and getting a foot in to nip the ball away. He was so quick he was onto the loose ball and driving towards the penalty area before the defender realised what had happened.
The run took Greenwood into a dangerous area. He picked out Juan Mata in the end, who fluffed his shot, and maybe the better ball was across goal for Amad to tap in, but it was an example of how a well-timed and aggressive press can create excellent attacking opportunities.
Rangnick has never hidden his desire to build teams around a youthful core. They can be more amenable to new ideas, easier to mould and construct for the good of the team. There’s a feeling that the interim manager will find a player he will have an awful lot of time for in Greenwood.
This was his fifth goal of the season and a couple of them have been outstanding. He started the season as a sole centre forward and has since moved back to the right-wing, but playing him a front two could bring the best out of him.
Greenwood has the energy to press across the pitch if required, giving Ronaldo the opportunity to pick his moments. He drifted left and right against Young Boys was the moment he nicked possession of Ali Camara wasn’t the only time he won the ball in a promising area.
Rangnick might well go into Saturday’s fixture against Norwich with the same XI that beat Palace at the weekend, but having told his players to make sure they took their opportunity against Young Boys, it is Greenwood who must be closest to forcing a change in that side.