Football Features

Champions League Rasmus Hojlund shows up again but Man Utd’s woes continue

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:37, 8 November 2023

Rasmus Hojlund was once again on the scoresheet for Manchester United in the Champions League but he couldn’t prevent them from falling to a 4-3 defeat to FC Copenhagen.

It was a disastrous start to the 2023/24 Champions League for Man Utd, as they lost their opening two group stage games against Bayern Munich and Galatasaray. The Red Devils were bottom of their group and staring an early exit in the face, knowing they had to win this double-header with FC Copenhagen.

The first game at Old Trafford wasn’t comfortable for Man Utd and they laboured to a 1-0 win thanks to Harry Maguire’s second-half goal, also having to rely on Andre Onana’s injury-time penalty save to preserve the win.

And they looked set to be on their way a second win, which would have lifted them up to second, but the wheels came off. It was such a bright start, with Man Utd taking just two minutes and 51 seconds to open the scoring in Copenhagen. It was their quickest Champions League goal of the season and their earliest in the competition since Romelu Lukaku scored in the second minute away to PSG in March 2019.

Hojlund was the goalscorer in his native Denmark, at one of the clubs that formed him, joining the youth setup of FC Copenhagen in 2017 aged 14. The striker made it through the ranks to the first team at FC Copenhagen and played 32 times, scoring five goals, before being sold to Sturm Graz.

Man Utd worked the ball well on the right with Scott McTominay bursting into the box to get onto the end of Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s reverse pass. The Scot kept his cool and played the ball across the box to Hojlund, who finished coolly.

Hojlund then got his second 25 minutes later, capping off a fine counter attack by tapping in after Alejandro Garnacho’s initial shot was saved.

It’s his fifth goal of the season, making him the top scorer for Man Utd across all competitions. But, unfortunately for Man Utd, all five of those goals have come in the Champions League.

In the Premier League, Hojlund’s record reads eight games played and no goals scored, cutting a particularly frustrated figure as he was taken off against Fulham at the weekend. The main problem for Hojlund in the Premier League has been a lack of chances.

Hojlund has had just 11 shots in the Premier League this season, averaging 1.73 per 90 minutes, with only four on target (0.63 per 90). He’s missed six Big Chances and has an xG of just 1.36, not the return Man Utd would have wanted for a player they spent an initial £64m on.

By contrast, in the Champions League — across just four appearances remember — Hojlund has had 10 shots at an average of 3.5 per 90 minutes, with six on target (2.1 per 90). The Dane has scored four of his five Big Chances, with an xG of 3.39. Hojlund is also slightly more involved in games in the Champions League averaging 32.22 touches per 90 minutes compared to 28.95 in the Premier League.

Unfortunately for Hojlund, he has also been a bit of an unlucky goalscorer. All five of Hojlund’s goals in the Champions League this season have been in defeats for Man Utd, though this was nothing to do with him.

In Copenhagen, the game changed when Marcus Rashford was sent off for a foul on Elias Jelert in the 42nd minute, catching him high on the leg when trying to shield the ball. Just a few minutes later, former Southampton man Mohamed Elyounoussi pulled a goal back and by half-time (with 13 minutes added on due to a medical emergency in the crowd) they were level thanks to a penalty.

Man Utd restored the lead through Bruno Fernandes with a penalty of their own late in the second half, but there was another collapse late on with FC Copenhagen scoring twice to claim a famous win. It means Man Utd sit bottom of the group with two games left to play, with a lot riding on their trip to Galatasaray next time out.

And former Man Utd midfielder Paul Scholes offered a word of warning.

“They’re going to play better teams than Copenhagen, but I thought there was a little bit of fight there tonight,” Scholes told TNT Sport.

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“[They’re] just lacking still that bit of leadership. Maybe if Casemiro was in there, things might have been different. It’s alright conceding a goal, it happens. Away in Europe, it’s not easy to play away in Europe, it’s very difficult. In any type of ground, it’s difficult.

“But there has to come a point where you say, ‘right, come on we’ll just stay here’. Especially with 10 men, ‘we’re going nowhere, we’re staying on the edge of our box’. We saw what Tottenham did the other night, totally different to that. You can’t do that.

“And for a long time they did it. Just a little bit of discipline, a little bit of lack of concentration. Tiredness does affect your concentration, you see (Diogo) Dalot lost concentration there [for the equaliser], then the next goal was a mistake.

“It’s just that collapsing that’s really hurting them at the minute. Once they concede one it seems like the second one is coming and they’ve got to stop that.

“You can’t win games if that’s going to happen every week.”

Man Utd have now lost nine times across all competitions this season, with only Burnley (10) losing more among Premier League sides. It was also the first time they have lost a Champions League match in which they led by 2+ goals.