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In Focus

Previously the subject of ridicule from opposition fans following a 14-match barren run in front of goal in the Premier League, Rasmus Hojlund looks to have come alive at Manchester United.

Eyebrows were raised when the Red Devils agreed a £72m deal to bring the little-known Danish youngster to Old Trafford from Serie A side Atalanta last summer, with the striker toiling to make an impact in the Premier League in the first half of the season.

Hojlund, at 6ft 3ins and blessed with conspicuous speed, has always looked the part, but failure to net a single league goal in fourth months in a red shirt would have left even the most ardent of United supporters questioning whether the Dane was the answer to the club’s striking problems.

The turning point for Hojlund would arrive on Boxing Day of last year, with his first Premier League goal sealing a dramatic turnaround for Man Utd in a 3-2 win over Aston Villa.

Since then, the Dane can’t seem to stop scoring, with Hojlund becoming the youngest ever Premier League player to net in six successive matches after bagging a brace in United's 2-1 win against Luton at Kenilworth Road. 

We examine Hojlund’s recent form and his potential at Man Utd in the latest edition of In Focus...

Rough diamond

Signed off the back of a nine-goal season in Serie A with Atalanta, it was clear from the outset when Man Utd welcomed Rasmus Hojlund to Old Trafford that the young Dane was far from the finished article.

The £72m price tag heaped immediate pressure on the youngster, however, with a lack of alternative available strikers at United adding to both the level of expectations on Hojlund’s shoulders and manager Ten Hag’s necessity to play him.

Arriving at the club with a back injury, Hojlund missed the entirety of the team’s pre-season and only made his first team debut from the bench in United’s fourth league match of the campaign – a 3-1 defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates.

This lack of physical preparation will have no doubt hindered Hojlund’s ability to fully integrate into the team, with his struggles in front of goal attesting to this.

Having said this, Hojlund’s promise was apparent immediately, with his physical stature, power and movement impressing Man Utd supporters right away.

Although Hojlund found it difficult to make his mark in the Premier League, five goals in six games during the Champions League group stages showed his capabilities at the top level.

Notching a brace against Galatasaray and Copenhagen, whilst also finding the net against Bayern Munich, Hojlund finished joint-top of the Champions League’s group stage goals standings alongside Erling Haaland, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata despite United’s elimination.

His impact in the Champions League made Hojlund’s goal drought in the Premier League somewhat perplexing, but it became increasingly clear that a lack of service from his teammates was certainly not helping the Dane’s case.

Up until 16th December, 17 gameweeks into the domestic season, no other starting striker in the Premier League had received less passes from his teammates than Hojlund’s total of approximately 150.

These damning Opta statistics highlighted that in Hojlund’s first 13 Premier League appearances, he had been passed the ball a combined 11 times by United wingers Antony and Alejandro Garnacho.

These numbers make for grim reading, with the Red Devils scoring a measly 18 goals in their first 18 Premier League games up until their meeting with Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Boxing Day – a match which has marked a turning point for Ten Hag’s side.

Down 2-0 at half-time and appearing in dire straits, the Red Devils were able to launch an unlikely comeback in the second period to prevail 3-2, with Garnacho netting a brace and Hojlund sealing all three points with his maiden Premier League goal.

Since then, United have scored 14 goals in six league matches with a rejuvenated Hojlund responsible for just under a half of them.

Hojlund’s latest outing saw him bag a brace in a 2-1 away win over Luton, with the Dane displaying his anticipation and speed to fire United in front after just 37 seconds before netting an audacious second after diverting a Garnacho effort in off his chest.

The 21-year-old's performance at Luton saw him compared to a fellow Scandinavian on the blue half of Manchester by former United skipper Gary Neville.

"Hojlund looked like a Haaland in the making - that power, that strength and aggression in his running. I've always like that about a Manchester United centre-forward," Neville said on Sky Sports.

Man Utd's victory at Kenilworth Road made it seven matches unbeaten in all competitions for the Red Devils, with a growing sense of momentum at Old Trafford as the conclusion of the season draws near.

Hojlund’s upturn in form has been a key part of this renewed positivty, with the Denmark international’s patience and perseverance beginning to pay off.

It has always been there, I have always believed in myself, it has just been about getting the rhythm going.

- Rasmus Hojlund, February 2024 [Match of the Day]

Youngest players to score in six successive Premier League matches:

1) Rasmus Hojlund - 21 years, 14 days
2) Joe Willock - 21 years, 272 days
3) Erling Haaland - 22 years, 73 days
4) Romelu Lukaku - 22 years, 213 days
5) Thierry Henry - 22 years, 263 days

Man Utd 2023/24 Odds:

Premier League:

To Finish in Top 4 - 7/2
To Finish in Top 5 - 7/4
To Finish in Top 6 - 8/15

FA Cup:

To Win Outright - 7/1

New era at Old Trafford

Hojlund’s hot streak is one of several causes for optimism for Man Utd supporters at the moment, alongside the sensational breakthrough of academy graduate Kobbie Mainoo, positive strides taken by fellow young gun Garnacho, and the not so little matter of the news that INEOS chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe has acquired a 25% stake in the club.

At the ripe old age of 21, Hojlund could almost be considered an experienced figure in comparison to Mainoo, 18 and Garnacho, 19, with this youthful trio starting each of United’s last five Premier League matches.

With a 2-2 draw at home to Ange Postecoglou’s Spurs followed up by three consecutive league wins, the Red Devils’ positive form could be acknowledged to have coincided with the increased prominence of their three most talented youngsters.

A viral image of Hojlund, Garnacho and Mainoo celebrating one of United’s goals in a 3-0 win over West Ham last month together was a vivid symbol of hope for the club looking to the future.

Man Utd are a club with a long and rich history of developing young players, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s 27-year reign as manager at Old Trafford between 1986 and 2013 defined by this ethos, and regardless of what you make of his tumultuous tenure to date, current boss Ten Hag has demonstrated his willingness to give youth a chance.

United defender Harry Maguire has praised the impact of Hojlund and manager Ten Hag's willingness to give youngsters a chance at Old Trafford, telling Sky Sports:

"We always knew that goals were going to come because he [Hojlund] is an exceptional talent. He’s going to be a big player for this club. I’m sure he’ll keep scoring goals and there are many more to come.

"This club has built a philosophy where young players get chances and if you take your chance you stay in the team and this manager [Ten Hag] has proved that."

Denmark international Hojlund and Argentina prospect Garnacho form two-thirds of a separate trio which could characterise Man Utd’s future alongside another academy graduate in the form of Marcus Rashford.

In Man Utd's five-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League, Ten Hag's side have lined up with a front three of Rashford on the left, Garnacho on the right and Hojlund through the middle with a total of 13 goals scored during this period.

Garnacho’s performances on the right flank will have delighted Ten Hag, with right wing having been a problem area for United in recent years with big money acquisitions Jadon Sancho and Antony struggling to make an impact.

With Rashford, Garnacho and Hojlund combining well in attack, Mainoo shining at the base of midfield and skipper Bruno Fernandes remaining one of the team’s key players in an attacking midfield role, all of a sudden a much-maligned Man Utd squad can be acknowledged to be taking shape.

The youthful nature of this cohort of players is something which will please new Man Utd’s new investor Sir Jim Ratcliffe who has been tasked with overseeing the sporting performance of the club, with the INEOS chairman reportedly keen on freshening up the squad with young and hungry talent.

The rapid development of Hojlund and Co in recent months therefore looks to have given Sir Jim a head start in his project to return Man Utd to the top of English football, with perhaps only a handful of shrewd acquisitions in the summer transfer window setting the Red Devils up nicely for brighter days ahead.

He can really perform under stress and that is something you need as a Manchester United striker. He has a lot of confidence and I’m sure he will score even more.

- Erik ten Hag on Hojlund, February 2024 [Man Utd website]

Premier League 2023/24 Goals per Shot:

(Selected players):

  • Rasmus Hojlund - 0.24
  • Son Heung-min - 0.22
  • Alexander Isak - 0.22
  • Erling Haaland - 0.18
  • Mo Salah - 0.18
  • Dominic Solanke - 0.17
  • Ollie Watkins - 0.17

The next Great Dane?

Since his first Premier League goal against Aston Villa on Boxing Day, Hojlund has averaged a goal every 88 minutes in the league, meaning he will end up on 20 for the season if he continues at his current rate.

This would mark an impressive return for the 21-year-old in his first season in English football, especially given the length of time it took for him to get off the mark.

Now appearing in peak physical condition after missing pre-season and taking time to get up to speed, Hojlund will be targeting a strong end to the campaign ahead of his participation in this summer’s Euros with Denmark.

Hojlund has scored an impressive seven goals in 10 caps for his country, including a blistering hattrick against Finland in Euros Qualifying last March which turned heads across the continent, and is set to be Denmark’s main man in attack in Germany this summer.

After enjoying an admirable run to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 – eventually beaten 2-1 by England after extra time at Wembley – Kasper Hjulmand’s side will be eager to show their quality again on the biggest stage this year.

Denmark will be desperate to bounce back from a disappointing World Cup campaign in Qatar in 2022 in which they were knocked out in the group stages after losing to an unfancied Australia side.

Man Utd hotshot Hojlund was not a part of this squad in Qatar, with the precocious striker perhaps holding the key to Denmark’s Euros hopes this summer.

One man who is certainly backing Hojlund for success is compatriot and Man Utd legend Peter Schmeichel:

You know when you see something which is very, very special that doesn’t come along very often? That’s what I’ve seen in him.

- Peter Schmeichel on Hojlund, February 2024 [talkSPORT]

Denmark Euro 2024 Odds:

To Win Outright - 33/1

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