The significance of Ramus Hojlund’s first Premier League goal was clear in the emotion across the Danish striker’s face. Not only did his opportunistic strike against Aston Villa give Manchester United a valuable comeback victory to ease the pressure on everyone at the club, it highlighted the sort of frontman the £72m summer signing could become.
Of course, it should be noted that Hojlund scored five goals in six Champions League appearances for Manchester United this season, but the Premier League is where the 20-year-old will be judged most acutely and until Boxing Day he’d drawn a blank in the 11 matches he’d started.
Erik ten Hag was open afterwards in his hope that Hojlund’s goal against Villa will release the cork from the bottle. Now that he’s off the mark, the young Dane will surely have more confidence in front of goal in the second half of the season. Manchester United need him to start scoring regularly to push them up the table and justify the £72m outlay.
“Of course, when strikers don’t score that is always a problem but he has a strong character and is always so determined,” said ten Hag about Hojlund after finding the back of the net in the win over Aston Villa. “He has a big personality and that is what a striker needs. And when you keep investing, the goals will come.”
For Hojlund to truly fulfil his potential, though, Manchester United need to do more for him – specifically, his teammates. As a centre forward, Hojlund needs consistent service to make a difference in front of goal, but United have starved him of that in the Premier League this season. This has to change, the sooner the better.
Of the top 20 player combinations that have led to goals this season, not one is a combination between two Manchester United players. Until now, they have been a team of individuals and this has resulted in a dreadful record in front of goal – only three teams (Crystal Palace, Burnley and Sheffield United) have scored fewer goals in the Premier League this season.
When United’s wide players get into the final third, they invariably take aim with a shot of their own. Alejandro Garnacho and Marcus Rashford are both talented players, but they aren’t providers – they are goalscorers in their own right. Antony is another wide player at Old Trafford who likes to have a go himself.
Even in the match against Aston Villa, which saw Hojlund score the winner, there were occasions when Garnacho and Rashford had a shot from a tight angle when it would have been better to square it for the Dane in a central area. Diogo Dalot was also guilty of similar more than once. Hojlund could have scored more than just the one goal he finished with.
It’s understandable that Manchester United’s wide players operate this way. For years, they haven’t had an attacking focal point to play off and around. The centre forward position was neglected under successive managers at Old Trafford and so it fell on the likes of Rashford to provide the goals. This is why he shoots on sightly so frequently. It’s muscle memory at this point.
Ten Hag must reprogram his attack to get the best out of Hojlund and that won’t be easy. The Dane’s goal on Boxing Day, however, must be used as evidence to convince the likes of Antony, Garnacho and Rashford to alter the way they play. There was no point in Manchester United signing a new striker to finish chances if they don’t create any for him.