An analysis of why the young Atalanta striker is being seen by Erik Ten Hag as the one to help lead United’s attacking force reach new heights.
With the football season now at a close, June 14th sees the opening of the transfer window, here in England, commence and it is no surprise to see or hear all the latest rumours and developing stories from some of the game’s top journalists everywhere. As club’s now begin the task of going head-to-head in meeting rooms instead of the football pitch, the eyes of all fans now turn their attention to any new acquisitions that can take their team to the next level.
One club who is expected to have a very busy summer, despite ongoing takeover talks, is Manchester United as they look to go into Erik Ten Hag’s second season at the helm with the goal of improving on a 3rd place finish, one league cup and a disappointing loss in the FA Cup final to city rivals, Manchester City. With the errors of long-time goalkeeper and legend David De Gea currently in the spotlight, the one position that is still seen as the most important by all United fans is that of a striker, maybe even two, who can finish the many chances created under the Dutch manager more consistently.
As reports continue to suggest that Tottenham and England captain Harry Kane is Ten Hag’s top target in the striker position, it is no surprise to also see another name now come into the conversation as either an alternative or in addition to the clinical English forward. In recent days, the name Rasmus Højlund is one that is gaining more and more traction, from reliable sources, as one to seriously watch. Since joining Italian side Atalanta in August of last year for €17 million from Sturm Graz, the 20 year-old striker has caught the attention of many due to his ability to sniff a chance at goal in and around the 18-yard box and also create chances for himself with ease, qualities that have seen him compared to fellow Scandinavian superstar Erling Haaland.
At the Italian side, Højlund has used his towering frame of 6′ 3 and strength as a way to drop deeper into the midfield as a way to link up the play with his teammates before getting back into a dangerous position to finish any opportunity that comes his way, whether it be from distance or within the 6-yard box. Not only is he a player who is strong and can hold his own against opposing defenders, the young Dane is also pacey and intelligent going forward as he is continuously looking for space, even to the degree of relentlessness, plus has the instinct to pick out the right spots to get his shot away at goal.
Despite only scoring 9 goals in thirty-two appearances, not as impressive as imaged at first glance, it is the striker’s continuous attacking threat in a side that finished 5th in Serie A this season as well as his impressive qualities that have made Ten Hag look in his direction as one that can be a diamond in the rough for a club that is in limbo with regards to its transfer war chest potential.
Already, it is clear that a player of Højlund’s ilk is one that can flourish under a manger with the style and philosophy of Ten Hag. The Dutch manager is one who likes to have his strikers in and around the box to get on the end of chances but, also have the ability to drop deeper to help the team continue the attacking play and create spaces in and behind the opposition for others to exploit. No example can be more evident of this, than of Højlund’s recent goal in Atalanta’s last game of the season against Monza where the striker got on the end of a ball across the 6-yard box, from Teun Koopmeiner, something United have lacked in abundance this season with many crosses into this area being met by ghosts in the box.
However, like many young strikers and that includes Haaland at his age, the Dane has areas where there is clear improvement to be made if he is to take steps towards reaching the elite level of strikers in world football. One area, in particular, is in aerial duals as the striker has only managed a 37% success rate, despite his towering figure and strength on the ball. For a striker, this is not good enough and especially for one of Højlund’s talent but it is also concerning as the Premier League is synonymous with having defenders and strikers that are good in the air and love a battle for a header, so this one area where Ten Hag will need to improve the striker quickly.