Meet Rasmus Højlund, Denmark’s rising football star drawing comparisons to Erling Haaland and Dušan Vlahović. While Danish football has a rich history of producing top-notch players like the Laudrup brothers and Christian Eriksen, the country’s attacking talent pipeline has slowed down in recent years.
Højlund, however, emerged as a promising center-forward when he made his mark at Sturm Graz after moving from Copenhagen for a meager fee. His impressive performances in central Europe caught the attention of various clubs. Eventually, he joined the ranks of Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta, which was transitioning and looking for fresh talent.
Though it took time for Højlund to adjust to his new surroundings, his talent shone through. After missing out on the 2022 World Cup squad, he used the setback as motivation to improve further. The extended mid-season break gave him the opportunity to develop his game and fit seamlessly into Atalanta’s style of play.
While some were surprised at his swift rise and move from Sturm Graz, it was evident that he was destined for bigger things. Højlund’s journey from boyhood to manhood on the pitch has been captivating to watch, and he is now determined to prove his worth on both the domestic and international stages.
With Denmark seeking new stars to follow in the footsteps of their footballing greats, Rasmus Højlund has emerged as a beacon of hope, potentially continuing the nation’s tradition of producing top-quality footballers.
Højlund’s Playing Style Defined
Rasmus Højlund possesses a striking resemblance to Dušan Vlahović during his Fiorentina days, with an engaging attacking style. At 20 years old, he’s younger than Vlahović during his peak in Florence, and under Gasperini at Atalanta, he’s been thriving as a second striker alongside a direct forward like Duván Zapata, Luis Muriel, or Ademola Lookman in a 3-5-2 formation.
Standing at around 6’2″ with a robust physique, Højlund excels in holding up play and involving his teammates. He often drops deep to collect the ball, contributing to the team’s build-up play by distributing it wide for his teammates before making penetrating runs towards the goal.
His swift ball-carrying ability is a valuable asset, particularly for launching counter-attacks, a skill highly sought after in modern football. Moreover, his physical attributes make him incredibly versatile tactically. He can exploit spaces as an off-the-shoulder striker, serve as a target man to retain possession for his teammates, or drift wide to attack channels and create opportunities for others.
What makes Højlund even more exciting to watch is his varied finishing prowess. From curling shots on the spin to dribbling past goalkeepers for open-goal finishes, from clever backheel flicks to powerful headers and long-range thunderbolts, he displays an impressive array of goal-scoring techniques. Remarkably, he can execute these techniques with both feet, making him a threat from all angles.
While his goal-scoring record at Atalanta may not be as prolific as some of his teammates, it’s important to note that he has primarily played a supportive role for the likes of Zapata and Muriel. Nevertheless, his versatility as an attacker allows him to stretch defenses, link up with teammates, deliver pinpoint passes, take on defenders, sniff out scoring opportunities in the box, and even threaten from long range.
How Exactly Does Rasmus Højlund Help Manchester United?
Last season, Manchester United faced a glaring issue: they struggled to score enough goals. Their 11.4 non-penalty goals below expectation ranked third worst in the Premier League, only outperforming almost-relegated Everton and a turbulent Chelsea side. Additionally, their tally of 58 league goals was the lowest among the top six teams, and just seven more than relegated Leicester City.
This goal-scoring concern has carried over to their pre-season matches, with players like Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, new signing Mason Mount, and Alejandro Garnacho squandering chances in a 2-0 loss to Real Madrid. Manager Erik ten Hag didn’t mince words, calling for more players capable of converting one-on-one opportunities and urging them to be more clinical in front of goal.
It is in addressing these exact concerns that Rasmus Højlund emerges as an exciting answer for Manchester United. His exceptional stats from last season in Serie A display his remarkable potential as a goal-scorer. With 0.47 non-penalty expected goals (xG) per 90, he ranked fifth among players with over 900 minutes of game time, almost perfectly matching that with 0.44 non-penalty goals per 90. Højlund consistently delivers on the chances he’s expected to score, a trait that would be warmly embraced at Old Trafford. Few forwards under 23 across Europe’s top five leagues have outperformed him, setting the stage for a thrilling prospect.
What makes Højlund’s profile even more exciting is his physical attributes, which should ease his transition to the Premier League. His blistering speed in transitional moments aligns perfectly with Ten Hag’s counter-attacking style, where United recorded the most direct attacks in the Premier League last season. One stunning example of his pace was seen in a goal against Lazio, where he swiftly accelerated past defenders to find the back of the net.
Another asset that Højlund brings to United’s attacking arsenal is his proficiency in attacking low crosses. This could prove invaluable to the team, especially considering that United’s rate of open-play crosses was among the lowest in the league last season. His positioning and timing to attack low crosses present a potent goal-scoring threat.
Moreover, Højlund’s off-ball movement and runs behind the defense align with Ten Hag’s tactical approach. This was evident in the data, where United’s number of such runs into the opposition penalty area increased throughout Ten Hag’s debut season. Højlund constantly makes such intelligent runs, offering himself as a progressive passing option and creating space for his teammates.
Højlund’s versatility as a striker is another asset that makes him an attractive prospect for United. He can effectively play with his back to the goal, shielding the ball, and positioning himself smartly to outwit defenders. His ability to dribble in tight spaces and use both feet sets him apart from traditional poachers and highlights his all-round contribution to the team’s attack.
While he still has room for improvement in his aerial ability, Højlund’s young age and potential for development suggest that he can grow into this aspect of his game. At just 20 years old, he has already made significant strides in his career, impressing at FC Copenhagen, Sturm Graz, and Atalanta.
Although Højlund may not yet be considered among the elite strikers in Europe, United fans should be excited about the prospect of a long-term investment in a player with immense potential and a high ceiling. The Dane’s sharp ascent in a short span demonstrates his rapid progress, and with the right nurturing, he has all the tools to thrive in a Manchester United shirt.
If the deal materializes, the journey to Old Trafford will be the most significant step in Højlund’s career. However, with his goal-scoring prowess, blistering speed, tactical adaptability, and potential for further improvement, he appears to be the perfect fit for Ten Hag’s side, and a player who could potentially ignite the Red Devils’ attack and bring them back to the summit of English football.
The Dane’s Future: What Awaits Him?
Rasmus Højlund, at just 20 years old, displays the potential of a top-tier center-forward with his impressive understanding of the game in the final third and exceptional ball control. While his abilities already indicate he could become a difference-maker at a high level, a hasty move this summer might hinder his development.
However, amid this uncertainty, exciting news has emerged – a £72 million move to Old Trafford is on the horizon, as Manchester United finally reached an agreement with Atalanta. Despite scoring only 10 goals for the Serie A side last season, Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag firmly believes Højlund can be the solution to their striker issues.
The optimism surrounding Højlund’s potential is partly fueled by his stunning speed, which rivals that of some of the quickest strikers in the Premier League. Gian Piero Gasperini, his former coach at Atalanta, had previously praised his unique qualities, comparing him to the likes of Erling Haaland.
Gasperini’s words about Højlund’s spirit, energy, and technical prowess have resurfaced, sparking delight among United fans who eagerly anticipate the arrival of this “supernatural athlete” to boost their frontline.
As Højlund’s talents continue to be nurtured and developed under Gasperini’s tutelage, there’s a belief that the Atalanta coach’s genius in extracting every ounce of potential from players will pave the way for the young Dane to operate even more effectively in radical attacking roles. This development could help refine his skills and elevate him to the desired tier of elite young forwards.
With a move to Manchester United on the horizon and the prospect of further development under Ten Hag, Rasmus Højlund’s journey promises to be one to watch closely, as he aims to fulfill his immense potential and become a force to be reckoned with in the world of football.