It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of Mason Greenwood getting into Gareth Southgate’s England squad was farfetched.
After a stunning breakthrough campaign in 2019-20 that saw him score 10 times in the Premier League, 2020-21 got off to a difficult start for the teenager.
It took him until December to score his first league goal of the season, and it took him a little over four months to net again.
Although he was in England contention at the start of the season, such form had seemingly seen him fall well out of the reckoning. When he was unsurprisingly absent from the March selection, few eyebrows were raised.
After all, it was back in September when Greenwood – having just won his first senior cap against Iceland – was involved in controversy involving two local girls being brought to the team hotel. He and Phil Foden were subsequently sent home and left out of the next squad.
But Foden was swiftly recalled in November having impressed early on, and he looks set to take on a key role at the Euros such has been his influence at Premier League champions Manchester City.
It’s a slightly different scenario for the similarly talented Greenwood, and the reality is he will probably miss out, but his return form has at least given him a chance.
Perseverance and focus
As previously mentioned, Greenwood’s form really suffered in the first part of the season, and that seemed to linger well into this year.
When considering what went wrong, it’s of course natural to look at his performances and on-pitch habits.
For example, shot map data earlier in the season suggested he has potentially been found out by defenders. He wreaked havoc in 2019-20 when cutting inside on to his left foot and shooting, but it looked as though opponents had become wise to this, forcing him outside more often.
That’s one theory – another worth considering is the human side of football. Let’s not forget, Greenwood – a teenager – went through a lot last year.
There was the death of a close friend, the controversy on England duty and subsequent vilification of him from certain sections of the British media. All of that would be difficult for anyone to contend with, let alone a kid of 18 or 19 years.
Perhaps then it was just a matter of time, patience and perseverance for him to get back to his best, which he appears to be on the evidence of the past six weeks or so.
The fact we are even talking about his chances of going to the Euros is a triumph for Greenwood in itself.
From drought to downpour
Greenwood went on a run of 15 appearances without a single goal from late January, but he ended that barren spell against Leicester City on March 21.
Life has been rather different for him since then, finding himself back among the goals in the Premier League on April 4, netting the late winner as United defeated Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 with a diving header.
That’s one of six league goals in a run of eight matches, more than any other English forward in that time, netting at a rate of once every 88 minutes – by comparison, Harry Kane’s recent form has him scoring every 125.8 minutes in the league.
Greenwood is once again showing the kind of killer-instinct in front of goal that made him so feared in 2019-20, when he scored 17 goals across all competitions.
Ten of those came in the league from an expected goals (xG) value of just 2.9, meaning he scored 7.1 goals more than expected. No player in the division could match that xG overperformance.
This would generally indicate elite-level finishing or a player getting lucky. Greenwood’s form earlier this season suggested it was the latter, but since April 4 his xG overperformance in the league is 2.6 – the next best in this regard is Danny Ings (1.9 overperformance).
However, the caveat is that Greenwood’s expected goals on target (xGOT) of 2.7 is lower than his xG of 3.4, suggesting that he’s actually been a little fortunate, benefiting from goalkeeping errors, for instance.
For example, against Burnley his goal took a deflection en route to goal, while his effort against Aston Villa went in off the hand of Emiliano Martinez.
In terms of the difference between his xG and xGOT, Greenwood actually ranks poorly when compared to his rivals for a place in the England squad since April 4, with Ollie Watkins’ 3.95 xGOT better than his 3.0 xG, which suggests his four goals have come about via good finishing because he has outperformed the underlying quality of his chances.
Ings, Kane and Marcus Rashford have also done better than Greenwood in this area of late, however the counter-argument would be that the teenager perhaps creates his own luck with unpredictable play on the ball and his comfort with either foot.
Southgate will make his decision regarding the squad on Tuesday, and Greenwood is likely still seen as an outsider, but there’s no question he has given the manager food for thought.