When Manchester United sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan last summer, they were accused of making a significant mistake and running out of options for the goal goal.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team won only two out of seven games in early 2020 and was six points below the top four – leading to Odion Ighalo’s striking signature on loan from the Chinese Super League – their manager’s decision-making process seemed questionable .
But since United has improved this year, so have their top three. The attackers who started Saturday’s 5-2 thrashing on Bournemouth – Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood – have become goal machines, with 55 of them in all competitions.
They scored four against Cherries – two for Greenwood and one for Rashford and Martial.
This was the third time since Christmas that they had all scored in a Premier League game, with one of the trio who had scored twice on each occasion.
To underline their attacking skills, United have scored five or more times on four occasions in their last 16 games. They did so only three times in the first 367 games after Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
“How can you not be enthusiastic about him?” former British striker Ian Wright asked BBC Match of the Day after Greenwood’s double.
United Nations chief Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the eighteen year old may be the best finisher he has ever seen.
United are two points behind Chelsea in the run for the top four, but are fifth, which will be enough for a place in the Champions League if Manchester City’s European ban is respected. They are also still in the Europa League and FA Cup.
How do they compare to the best trios in Europe?
The United trio have scored more goals in all competitions this season than Liverpool’s triple front of Mohamed Salah (21), Sadio Mane (19) and Roberto Firmino (11).
Only six of the best European teams have three players who have scored more than 55 of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood.
They are somewhat far from the total of Bayern Munich’s 83 scorers, 83 – Robert Lewandowski scored 51, Serge Gnabry 20 and Thomas Muller 12.
The three main scorers of Paris St-Germain are 68 (Kylian Mbappe 30, Mauro Icardi 20, Neymar 18).
Manchester City’s top three have 64, although not all play at the same time. Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling have 23 each, with 18 for Gabriel Jesus.
The three main scorers of RB Leipzig have 60 – with 34 for Timo Werner directed by Chelsea, 16 for Marcel Sabitzer and 10 for Emil Forsberg.
Lionel Messi (27), Luis Suarez (16) and Antoine Griezmann (14) have a total of 57 for Barcelona.
But then there are the three of United, together with the Juventus trio Cristiano Ronaldo (29), Paulo Dybala (17) and Gonzalo Higuain (9).
They are ahead of everyone else, including Liverpool’s front line (51) and Borussia Dortmund’s 48 (Jadon Sancho, Erling Braut Haaland and Marco Reus).
Lukaku has scored 25 goals for Inter this season, which would make him become United’s top scorer – but the next two top Inter goalsters have only gotten a combined 22.
Atalanta (52) and Lazio (48) are among the other teams with prolific scorers who cannot match the United trio. Real Madrid’s top three scored only 38, with Karim Benzema (22) and Sergio Ramos (11) the only two to reach double.
If the trio can maintain this form, United may not need to sign another first-rate striker anytime soon, despite reports that they are willing to do so.
Greenwood is 18 years old, while Rashford is only 22 years old. Martial is the group’s veteran at the age of 24.
‘The best finisher I’ve ever seen’ – Greenwood’s dramatic rise
When Greenwood scored his first United goal – against Astana in the Europa League in September – Solskjaer stated that he justified his decision to bring Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez into Inter Milan.
But the teenager took some time to consolidate a place in the first-choice XI. Five of his seven leagues starts this season have arrived since February.
He has scored eight league goals (one every 115 minutes) this season. Only Michael Owen (twice), Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney have done more in a Premier League season at the age of 18 or less.
Greenwood, who turns 19 on October 1st, scored the same number of league goals that Rashford made before his 19th birthday.
It is somewhat below the teenage sensations of Owen and Rooney, who have scored 28 and 15 Premier League goals for their 19 years. Fowler had managed 10.
A lot of Greenwood’s minutes have made it to the Europa League this season, with five goals in seven games that have only put him behind the top scorers.
“Mason is one of the best, if not the best, I have worked with and seen,” said manager Solskjaer after his victory over Bournemouth. “He is so calm. He knows where to end if he is on the training ground, here or in his home garden.”
MOTD Wright expert said: “It looks very special. Because he is a young English player, we are very excited.
“But we don’t get carried away because he has these things in his locker that are the first drawer. He can get that extra half meter that the best players do.”
Stephen Warnock, a BBC Radio 5 live expert, said “this guy is so hot.”
“What an awesome player. He’s just getting better.
“Greenwood is brilliant to look at and when you look at him out of the camera, you see the tracks he’s doing, he’s asking for the ball. There’s a belief in him that he’s good enough to play at this level.”
Martial and Rashford find their feet
Greenwood has the fewest goals in United’s top three – with Rashford and Martial out of 20 each.
Both are enjoying their best seasons scoring goals in five years in the UK’s first team – with a better goal-minute ratio than ever.
Rashford has become more efficient. Last season he scored only 13 of his 122 shots, compared to 20 of 113 efforts of this term.
Martial’s 20 goals came from 91 shots, compared to 12 of 57 last year. In 2015-16 he needed 98 shots to score 17 goals.
“They are exciting,” said Solskjaer. “We have players who offer them chances but have rhythm and skill.
“We have to build on this. There are many great games to come and we need bigger wins because we know that our goal difference is not the best.
“Trust is sky high, you get energy and security from performance and results and we are getting it right now.”
The trio still have a long way to go to join some of United’s great recent scorers.
Dwight Yorke (29), Andrew Cole (24) and Solskjaer (18) scored 71 combined goals in the 1998-99 high season.
The 2008 Champions League winning team scored even more goals from its top three scorers. Cristiano Ronaldo (42), Carlos Tevez (19) and Rooney (18) managed 79 of them.
That brand was paired in 2002-03, with Ruud van Nistelrooy who scored 44, Paul Scholes out of 20 and Solskjaer who scored 15.