What do you do when your bitter cross-city rival builds its team around a Scandinavian wonder striker? You find one for your own.
The goal-scoring heroics of Erling Haaland propelled Manchester City to an era-defining continental treble. Now, Manchester United is circling a player similar in name and profile – Rasmus Hojland.
Hojlund, 20, currently tied to Serie A club Atalanta, has been earmarked by United boss Erik Ten Hag to solve his side’s scoring troubles. Take away an absurd streak of goals from Marcus Rashford, United found it hard to find the back of the net last season.
In the Premier League, the Red Devils had an expected goal (xG) tally of 67.7 but could score only 58 goals. They were the third-worst team in the league in terms of underperforming their xG, behind Chelsea and Everton.
United, in an act of desperation, had roped in Dutch striker Wout Weghorst on loan, during the winter transfer window. But the quick-fix solution didn’t work out as Weghorst contributed just a goal in the Premier League during his spell with the team.
Hojlund, on the other hand, is a much more long-term solution and provides Ten Hag with a more rounded fit for his side which he is slowly moulding into his vision.
For Atalanta last season, the Danish striker scored 10 goals – nine in Serie A – and provided two assists. Hojlund had xG/90 of 0.47 in the league, which is only just behind Rashford’s figures of 0.49 in the Premier League.
Hojlund’s most eye-catching performances of the season have come with Denmark. The pacy attacker scored five goals in three days for his national team in the Euro Qualifiers, including a hat-trick against Finland.
Against his Scandinavian opponent, Hojlund displayed his goal-poaching instincts, scoring all three of his goals from inside the six-yard box.
But it would be reductive to earmark Hojlund as just a fox-in-the-box. The 6’3” striker provides a constant outlet in the final third and is adept at collecting the ball under pressure from opponents. Hojlund ranks in the 99th percentile when it comes to progressive passes received in the top five leagues in 2022/23.
With United about to announce goalkeeper Andre Onana, who is renowned for his ability on the ball, Hojlund’s reception skills will provide Ten Hag with an added edge when it comes to build-up play.
The left-footed striker is also nimble with his passing, often linking successfully with his teammates, particularly well during turnovers. United is a side that thrives in transition from defence to offence, with the side leading the league for direct attacks. Hojlund is also unafraid of taking on defenders, often using his strength and pace to good effect.
Hojlund’s strong link-up play and his preference for sticking to central zones during attacks will also allow Rashford to move back to his favored left-sided role. The England forward had taken up the mantle as United’s primary central attacker over the last campaign.
Hojlund will inevitably be compared against Haaland if he switches to the red side of Manchester. But, as the numbers suggest, Hojlund would add quality and edge to the number nine role for United, which has lacked a worthy occupier ever since Robin van Persie left Old Trafford.
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