Despite placing third in the league and winning a Champions League spot, Manchester City had a turbulent 2021-22 season. The Manchester giants were plagued with injury early in the campaign and subsequently, albeit harbouring a number of internationals within the squad, played a number of subpar matches. Nevertheless, there were standout performers for City across the term. These include Lauren Hemp, Georgia Stanway, but perhaps most of all, Alex Greenwood.
Greenwood joined City in 2020 after a yearlong stint with French champions Lyon. During her time overseas, Greenwood won the quadruple of trophies, including the French League and the prestigious Champions League.
Prior to this, Greenwood circulated between a number of clubs, including playing for Everton and Liverpool, as well as captaining Manchester United and now Manchester City. Greenwood’s moves have proved controversial for some and have seen her become something of a pantomime villain during certain derby matches. However, if players wish to be at the very top of their game, to win trophies and experience the highest level of women’s football, unfortunately, loyalties must occasionally be broken. As they say, for some, variety is the spice of life.
Greenwood’s experience playing at different levels and in different leagues has abetted in becoming a well-rounded yet refined defender. One that simply should not be omitted from any starting eleven, so much so that in the frankest of terms, Manchester City would not have achieved the bronze bill without Alex Greenwood.
In particular, this season, Greenwood has been the underpinning prop that has grounded, not only the backline but the entire City line-up in every single league match. It has been Greenwood that has anchored a floundering City ship in choppy and uncharted waters.
Leadership is not an attribute that comes naturally to all, but Greenwood has stepped into these shoes with professionalism and poise in the absence of other senior players. Whilst she may not be overtly vocal, Greenwood has the communication skills to organise and convey her expectations. Further to this, Greenwood leads by example and generally keeps a level head under frustrating circumstances, she has a composure that encourages those around her to adopt the same approach.
Moving across to central defence comes with its challenges. The role requires a disciplined defensive acumen and a consciousness of the movements of fellow centre-halves. In comparison, as a fullback, Greenwood assumed a more pressing and offensive duty. But Greenwood has managed to pull off a seamless merging of the two and develop into a rather layered defender.
Defensively, Greenwood continues to iron out the kinks and has shown great growth in positional aptitude. Her starting position is, more often than not, optimal in allowing her enough time to break up play and block off channels. The quality of Greenwood’s pressures on opponents who are in possession also shows improvement, demonstrating a use of physicality to a greater strength than in previous years.
Nevertheless, what sets Greenwood apart is her quality on the ball. Being gifted with exceptional technical abilities, however, is not the be all and end all, and players need to utilise this with good decision-making. Fortunately, she pairs this raw skill with an equally profound vision and anticipation. Greenwood is, without doubt, an exquisite reader of the game.
It is this combination that makes Greenwood so integral to Manchester City, whose style of play is focused more on the application of accurate passing and build-up as opposed to being over-reliant on quick-fire transitions. Greenwood is able to distribute the ball any which way over the pitch with incredible precision, often finding City’s primary attackers in the first instance. She has ended this campaign as the player who has made the most passes into the final third, the most progressive passes, as well as achieving the highest progressive passing distance in the league.
Her days of playing as a fullback have not been quashed and Greenwood uses these now ingrained traits to elevate her game further. She remains a player who likes to take control, step out and drive the ball herself. Placing first in the league for the number of touches of the ball with 2213 this term, it is interesting to note that over half of these have taken place within the middle third.
Using this evidence, it becomes apparent that Greenwood is not only tasked with serving as City’s lead centre-back, but also their principal playmaker. Greenwood was the target of 1664 passes and successfully received a whopping 98.3% of these, furthering the notion of her significance.
One final attribute that cannot be overlooked is Greenwood’s deliveries from dead balls. Greenwood has long been viewed as a set-piece specialist and for good reason, her ability to direct a corner or free-kick is quite extraordinary and will continue to be a huge asset to City as other ball technicians Caroline Weir and Georgia Stanway depart.
Internationally, Greenwood has come up through the ranks having played in U-17, U-19 and U-23 squads before making her senior debut in 2014. Most recently, Greenwood has secured herself as a permanent figure in Sarina Wiegman’s favoured line-up and this looks set to continue as England host the Euro’s this summer.
Greenwood offers a preferable technical balance to compliment partner Millie Bright’s no-nonsense defending. Having Greenwood play primarily as a centre-back with England also allows Wiegman to use Greenwood, Bright and Leah Williamson simultaneously, along with defensive midfielder Keira Walsh. This central square affords the Lionesses a solid core equipped with security, accuracy and creativity.
Greenwood should indeed be commended for the domestic season she has had with Manchester City. In what has been an uncertain period, she has remained the reliable constant for both teammates and supporters alike. Looking forward one only hopes she is able to showcase the very best of her game on the international stage and beyond; a talent such as Greenwood deserves celebration from the masses.