Now that we’ve had official confirmation of the Rasmus Hojlund deal, lets dive into what sort of player he is, and what drew Ten Hag to him in the first place.
Why Rasmus Hojlund is perfect for Erik ten Hag and Manchester United
The stats don’t lie
Hojlund’s standout attributes are his athleticism, aggressive speed, ability to beat a man and his incredible movement in the box. His movement has allowed him to be in the top 1% of strikers when it comes to progressive passes received and in the top 7% for touches in the box. He is incredibly direct on the ball, only having eyes for the goal which is shown by the fact that he is in the top 25% for progressive carries and top 40% for progressive passing, whilst being in the top 17% for successful takeons.
One thing we haven’t seen much from him is his ability to be a high-volume passer, we’ve not seen much of his range with Atalanta making the 8th most passes in Serie A and having the 9th most possession. We are also yet to see his full pressing ability, with Atalanta ranking 12th in the league when it comes to pressing intensity. However, from what we’ve seen of his aggressiveness and physicality I don’t see it being an issue.
Similar to Erling Haaland
His physicality and aggressiveness haven’t gone unnoticed, it has resulted in his current manager Gasperini comparing him to fellow Scandinavian striker Erling Haaland, saying: “Hojlund has this spirit, energy, intensity, but also the technical quality that is just remarkable. He still has so much margin for improvement, too”, while he added: “He has very similar characteristics to Haaland, not just his face. He is so quick, he’s under 11 seconds over 100m and that’s not even trying very hard. Considering his height, he has a low centre of gravity and can move his legs very fast. I am convinced he’ll have a great career; he just gets stronger every day.”
He has the directness, striking ability and intelligence in his attacking runs which Haaland possesses. He has a similar running style to that of Haaland, where he runs with his head down as he already has the image in his head as to what he wants to happen and uses his pace and physicality to force his way there. He is fairly 2 footed scoring 6 with his weaker right foot and 3 with his stronger left foot in the league last season. His elite movement allows for high xG chances and high quality chances but he also has very good technique which allows him to strike the ball with very little lift on, meaning he can keep it hard and low. Last season he scored 20 goals for club and country from an xG of 17.46. This disparity isn’t as high as that of the elites in Haaland and Kane but outperforming xG is something only 4 United players managed last season.
How he’ll fit at Old Trafford
A massive attribute to his game that United and Bruno Fernandes specifically will benefit from is Hojlund’s pace in behind coupled with his ability to hold off his defender and get a shot away. With Bruno playing the most through balls in the league and creating the most chances in the league, along with the Red Devils scoring the most goals off of quick transitions, it seems like a match made in heaven.
One aspect of Hojlund’s game that few are considering with this move is that when he was at Sturm Graz he was part of a front 2. Often drifting wide to leave more room for his striking partner, he often did the running and was able to pick out a teammate from the wing after beating his full-back.
This could be fully utilised at United. It is common knowledge that Ten Hag likes his wingers to cut inside, last season we often saw Weghorst picking up the ball in the half spaces but he wasn’t able to do much with it. We saw this with Martial too – after playing a good portion of his career on the wing he was able to get in behind often and try and pull it back to Rashford who had underlapped. This is something Hojlund can do as well.
It will allow for a somewhat fluid front 3 or even fluid front 5, with both Fernandes and Mount playing on the wings at certain times in their career. This will further add to Ten Hag’s idea of wanting free-flowing, controlling football. This will also work if United bring in a more experienced stop-gap as well as they would be able to play off each other with Hojlund operating in a wing position. It doesn’t have to be either/or – this will add another dimension to United’s options. We saw last season when the Red Devils were struggling at the end of the game they would play 2 up top in the final 10 minutes but due to that being a system most are unfamiliar with, it would look completely disjointed.
How good is he at finishing, really?
When it comes to finishing, yes at times Hojlund’s can be suspect, which sees him underperforming his xG by 0.5 in the league. This is because his shot selection can be poor at times. but at the same time, xG doesn’t take in consideration the situation of the shot very well. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t properly account for the situation if you are stretching for the ball or if you are being pressured by multiple players. One can win a header while being pressured by two defenders, for example, and xG won’t take into account that this impacts one’s ability to control where the header goes.
This is important when you look at Hojlund because the way in which he plays is usually operating between defenders, trying to make blind side runs. This usually results in him being under high pressure when on the ball and often battling to get a shot away making the chance more difficult. He is also someone who will throw himself at the ball to get shots away and so won’t always get the best connection.
However, he also has a brilliant left-footed snapshot, is very good at striking the ball with his left towards the far post whilst running away from goal. He can strike the ball with very little lift and lots of power at will.
One thing that is very impressive is his ability to hit accurate strikes, You can’t score if the shot is off-target, after all. He is in the top 6% of strikers in the top 5 leagues when it comes to shot-on-target percentage, with 52% of his attempts being on goal. Elye Wahi has the most with 58% and the likes of Haaland and Lewandowski have 50.3% and 42% respectively, so Hojlund is right up there when it comes to his efficiency at hitting the target.
United’s new striker is in the bottom 43% for goals per shot on target, though, at 1 in 3, but is in the top 25% when it comes to goals per shot at 1 in 6. This once again shows his efficiency in hitting the target. He does this in a side that doesn’t create magnitudes of opportunities: they created 58 big chances last season, which would put them in the 10th in the Premier League. For reference, this is fewer than Leicester, while Bruno Fernandes alone created 32. Atalanta’s lack of chance creation means Hojlund is only in the top 44% when it comes to shots per 90, which could explain why he takes snapshots and shots from awkward areas so often. He is a striker who is hungry for goals but has recently been starved for service.
I think this will be a brilliant signing for Ten Hag. Hojlund cost a high price but it will be worth it in the long run. He should have a long career at United and if he can continue his development under the tutelage of Benni McCarthy and Erik ten Hag, then he could be a very valuable asset and cog in the Manchester United machine for years to come.