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Unlocking the Potential: Rasmus Hojlund

Do we see yet another legend emerging for Manchester United from Denmark? Perhaps the answer is far from clear; however, Rasmus Højlund definitely has the potential to become the next big thing after Peter Schmeichel. In the messy environment of Man United, the 20-year-old striker has already started to become a fan favorite, following only a short tenure of nine games. United fans even booed Erik Ten Hag for subbing the Dane out in the game against Brighton early in the season.

After a successful season, United failed to drastically improve their roster as the Glazers family (owners of the club) did not sell the club despite months of protracted negotiations with Sheikh Jassim, not listening to the nine-year outrage of the fans. One of the few promising signings was Rasmus Højlund, often dubbed as “the next Erling Haaland”, for a €75 million transfer fee. Does he truly possess the potential to meet the extraordinary standard set by Haaland? Was he overpriced?

First of all, it is crucial to note that Manchester United has been lacking a natural striker (a player that mostly occupies the center of the opposition’s penalty box, covered by center-backs and is a good finisher, is mobile and is able to advance offenses with enough passing ability) for a long time. Ten Hag, United’s manager, saw it as such an alarming problem last season that United signed Wout Weghorst on loan in a rush in the January transfer window, even though he was underqualified for the job. Rasmus Højlund is probably one of the top five candidates United could have found this transfer window to play up front with his diverse skill set and his age, leaving room for him to improve.

Let’s now take a look at his various proficiencies to see what sets him apart from other possible prospects. With a scorer wing like Marcus Rashford on the pitch, maybe two of the most important skills this United team is looking for is the ability to hold the ball up front without regular turnovers and link-up play capability. Højlund showed us in the 22/23 season that he is totally capable of maintaining the ball and creating positions for others as he had 1.18 key passes per 90 minutes, more than 72% of the Serie A, topping it with five assists.

Højlund is also really swift and can speed up quickly. He can run 100 meters in 11 seconds according to Gian Piero Gasperini, his former manager in Atalanta. Along with his swiftness, his game awareness is great, allowing him to cut back on the defense and creating chances for scoring. This trait of his additionally prevents him from getting too many offside calls (only six last season), which helped him get a 0.47 x G (expected goals) per 90 minutes in the 2022/23 season, only bested by ten other players in the Serie A. His swiftness is also compatible with his strength and dribbling skills. His combination of precise dribbling, strength, and speed resulted in more successful dribbles than 86% of the league over the season. He doesn’t back down when physically challenged and can dribble past his opponents at the right moment, thanks to his impressive speed, creating more opportunities for everyone.

While all his talents are outstanding, arguably, the most important expertise required from Højlund is goalscoring. Although the sample size is seemingly small, in his one-year tenure with Atalanta, he was within the top 5% of the league in all of the following categories: goals scored (9), goal involvement (11), xG (and also non-penalty xG), shots on target (28/44). Perhaps not the most distinguishing stats, but they are considerably advanced for a 19-year-old in a tough league.

Now that he has come to a league with even higher standards and has started to get compared to players like Erling Haaland, he is having a hard time solving the riddle: the Premier League. Considering that this team started the league campaign with distressing form and did not play with a natural striker for a considerable number of seasons, it is only along the lines of all expectations that he is struggling as he tries to find his own rhythm along with the team and manager Erik Ten Hag.

Referring back to the comparisons with Erling Haaland, fans continue to liken him to Haaland despite his recent struggles. Their playing styles are in some ways similar, but the comparison to “the Norwegian Terminator” seems a bit excessive to Rasmus: “Erling is in any case the world’s best striker, if not the world’s best footballer. I don’t really want to be compared to him, but I hope that one day I can be like him.” Regarding the comparison, it is important to consider that Rasmus is three years younger than Erling and is just starting to pave his way to stardom, amidst a chaotic team environment due to aforementioned reasons. Despite these setbacks, however, Højlund is now among the top scorers in the Champions League with three goals, showing glimpses of a great future with Haalandesque scoring performances.

All things considered, the sky is the limit for Rasmus Højlund. Having already started to shine bright enough for fans to realize his success, he seems to be slowly proving to everybody that he will prove the 75 million spent on him to be a valuable and wise step.

Will he ever reach his full potential? How good will he actually become? These are questions only time will answer. In the meantime, however, we can confine ourselves to the prodigy’s own words: “I don’t know! We will have to see that. I take it one day at a time and try to get better every day.”

Højlund scores his second goal against Gala and his third goal in the Champions League.

Højlund scoring his second goal against Gala in their Champions League quarrel [all rights of the photo belong to Alex Livesey].

Works Cited:

  • Cover Photo by Michael Regan, photo in the article by Alex Livesey.

  • Røys, Lars Magnus. Ærlig Højlund om United: – Litt rotete. tv2sport. October 2023.

  • McGuire, Sam*. How Good is Rasmus Hojlund? The Manchester United Target Analysed*. July 2023.

  • The Coaches’ Voice. A shooting star for Manchester United. July 2023.

  • Crafton, Adam. Rasmus Hojlund and the treacherous process of signing young talent. The Athletic. August 2023.

  • profile Rasmus Højlund.

  • Rasmus Højlund Stats.

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