How Rasmus Hojlund Transforms Manchester United

Over the last decade, Manchester United has been associated with lacklustre transfer windows; however, 2023 seems to be an exception. With top targets like Mason Mount and Andre Onana signed by mid-July, and Rasmus Hojlund arriving to fix their centre-forward problems, both Mount and Onana can be considered seasoned professionals.

Mount is a Champions League winner, and Onana is a CL finalist, having played over 600 professional games between them. Hojlund, on the other hand, is a fairly unknown entity with just 20 years of age and one season under his belt in the top five European leagues, scoring only 9 goals last season. Man Utd reportedly paid £64 million for his services on a five-year contract, which could rise to £72 million with add-ons.

However, the fee is justified by the Danish striker’s age and potential.

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The first thing Premier League fans will notice about Hojlund is his physicality. United’s new number 9 stands at 6’3″. Despite his tall stature, Hojlund has blistering pace, making him an ideal candidate to latch onto through-balls from the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Mason Mount, and Christian Eriksen.

However, Eric Ten Hag hasn’t necessarily had to rely on such attributes in the past. For instance, Dusan Tadic acted as a false 9 in the 2019-20 season, and Weghorst was brought in as a facilitator last season, it’s not hard to see why Hojlund’s profile appeals to him.

United have improved under Ten Hag in 2022-23, but the Red Devils still lack penetration in the final third. Marcus Rashford is the only player to score over 8 goals in the league, and United ranks joint seventh in terms of goals scored with Brentford, having scored just 58 goals. Rashford was able to stay fit for the majority of the 2022-23 season, missing only three games last year and playing a crucial role in qualifying for the Champions League.

This simply isn’t good enough for a club that has spent £1.79 billion in the transfer market in the last decade. It indicates a failure to invest properly in the striker position. Big money was spent on Romelu Lukaku in 2017, but the club has otherwise looked for short-term fixes when recruiting goalscorers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, and Cristiano Ronaldo all arrived in the twilight of their careers, while Odion Ighalo and Wout Weghorst were signed on loan from the Chinese Super League and the Championship, respectively.

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In Hojlund, United now have a striker who, if provided chances, will score. He converted 0.47 expected goals (XG) per 90 minutes last season. The only player from the United team with over 1000 minutes under their belt to beat that was Rashford with 0.48 XG. But it’s not only his goalscoring that Hojlund will bring as an asset. Ten Hag prefers that his strikers help in the build-up and assist players around them.

Hojlund’s ability to drop deep, carry the ball, and make off-the-ball runs helped second striker Ademola Lookman score 13 goals in the league for Atalanta. The pair directly combined for four goals. Though they played together in the front two, Lookman has played as a winger for the majority of his career, and Hojlund’s skill sets should suit a player like Rashford, who is at his explosive best when playing on the left and is more of a goalscorer than a creator.

Hojlund is an asset for Ten Hag’s long-term vision for the United attack. While it’s sensible for the fans to temper their immediate expectations, they have every reason to dream of an Old Trafford superstar.

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