Rasmus Hojlund back on track as transfer flop of 2023/24 as Haaland comparison bears out

Will Ford
Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund
Rasmus Hojlund has endured a difficult first season for Man Utd.

We thought Rasmus Hojlund’s run of seven goals in six games put an end to his chances of being named transfer flop of the season, but he’s put himself right back in the running.

It’s been a curious debut season for Manchester United’s £64m striker. He scored five goals in three Champions League group games, all of which United lost, and all of his nine Premier League goal contributions (seven goals and two assists) came in six consecutive games between Boxing Day and February 18. He’s drawn a complete blank in the 18 games besides.

That spell at the turn of the year that left egg on the faces of five of the nine Football365 writers, who had up to that point felt awfully smug having predicted the Denmark international would be the biggest flop of the season.

It wasn’t just the number but the quality of the goals that Hojlund was scoring that made us all feel a bit daft as we instead questioned whether Manchester United may have broken their decade-long transfer policy and signed a very good footballer for a reasonable price. If anything, £64m looked like a bargain.

But was it a false dawn? After his brace against Luton in mid-February Hojlund missed three games through injury, but contrary to the understandable belief of many watching United games since, he has actually started their last five in all competitions.

Not only has he failed to score or assist in any of those five games, he’s had just three shots and one on target, and 14 touches in total in the opposition box. Manchester United have essentially been playing with ten men: a criticism now typically aimed at Manchester City and Erling Haaland.

READ MORE: The ridiculously bad stats of Erling Haaland: Big-game bottler and ‘League Two player’

There were inevitable lazy comparisons between Haaland and Hojlund when the latter arrived in the Premier League: similar names; both Nordic; both quite big forwards; both now in Manchester. And Hojlund, United and their fans would presumably have been very pleased indeed had they been told that by mid-April parallels would still be being drawn between the two.

They’re unfavourable comparisons though, drawn with Haaland currently in a significant trough, and without that lull for the Manchester City star we would instead be referring to Hojlund as ‘Haaland without the goals’.

If Hojlund was expertly holding the ball up or creating opportunities for others then fine, but he’s not been producing anything of note besides the goals he hasn’t been scoring.

He ranks eighth for shot-creating actions at United on 2.50 per 90 minutes; he’s 12th behind Victor Lindelof (0.20) and Harry Maguire (0.18) for goal-creating actions on 0.15 per 90. Six players have played more key passes. He ranks eighth for successful take-ons and nearly ten per cent of his 526 total touches have been miscontrols.

There’s little doubt that under new management, in a team taking shots rather than one not really trying and failing to prevent them, directed to put balls into the box from wide and told in general to at least attempt to feed Hojlund more often, he would be more of a success.

But he does have one of the Premier League’s foremost creators in Bruno Fernandes playing directly behind him, and while Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho must at times be infuriating to play with, Hojlund should have forged more of a relationship with those players by now.

It’s fair to say he’s lacked service, but surely after three shots in five games Hojlund should be trying to make something happen. Go and get the ball; make a chance for yourself. How many corners or free-kicks have been delivered into the box in that time? How many times has Fernandes found himself in some space with time on the ball waiting for a forward run?

There’s really no excuse for doing quite so little. As the cliched line goes: the time to worry isn’t when a striker’s missing chances but when they’re not getting them. By that logic Hojlund and Manchester United should be very concerned indeed.

The majority of us F365-ers are feeling pretty smug again though, on track as we are to nail the transfer flop of the season: Rasmus Hojlund.