Paul Scholes has defended Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund after his underwhelming Premier League start, insisting the problems come from elsewhere.
Hojlund joined Man Utd from Atalanta in the summer for an initial fee of £64m, with a further £8m in add-ons. Despite being just 20 years old, the transfer fee placed high expectations on Hojlund from the outside.
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Last season in Serie A, Hojlund scored just nine goals in 32 games, adding another one in two Coppa Italia matches. But Man Utd were signing for the potential rather than a ready-made product.
Regardless, the pressure was on as Man Utd needed a goalscoring striker, having struggled in that position for a while. Having missed the first few games of the season through injury, Hojlund finally made his Man Utd debut in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal and showed signs of promise.
However, the Dane has now played nine games in the Premier League and is still awaiting his first goal. The main problem as been a lack of chances. Hojlund has had just 14 shots in the Premier League this season, averaging 1.94 per minute minutes, with only five on target (0.69 per 90). He’s missed eight Big Chances and has an xG of just 2.47, not ideal return for a player of his transfer fee.
It’s in stark contrast to the Champions League, where Hojlund has had 10 shots at an average of 3.5 per 90 and 2.1 per 90 on target (six). He’s also more involved in Champions League, averaging 32.22 touches per 90 compared to 27.93 in the Premier League.
Hojlund has suffered another minor setback too, suffering a muscle strain before the international break. It ruled him out of action for Denmark, and has thrown his involvement immediately after the international into doubt.
But when he does return, Man Utd fans will be hoping Hojlund can find his feet in the Premier League. And Scholes believes his senior teammates, such Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, need to step up their game to help Hojlund.
“He’s a big strong lad with pace, he looks to me like he has everything to be a top-class centre-forward,” Scholes told YouTube channel Webby & O’Neill.
“I think he’s got the movement to do it, he missed a really good chance on Saturday [vs Luton], it was in a little bit of an awkward position for him, but if things are going for you it does bounce off you and go in.
“There is a lot of pressure on the kid. You think of the teams Manchester United have had, they’ve always had three or four centre-forwards who can score 25, 30 goals.
“They’ve almost got one now, who is a 20-year-old kid who has come without a real proven goalscoring track record. He needs help.
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“Fernandes needs to play in that No.10 position more, he needs to get closer to him, he needs to help him, he needs to try and find some kind of partnership while the pressure is on him.
“He [Hojlund] has got wide players around him who don’t cross the ball. He looks to me like he’s a centre-forward that wants crosses, he’s got clever movement on crosses – on Saturday against Luton for his chance, some really good movement, he checked, moved the lad out the way and got in.
“Now you’ve got Marcus Rashford who just wants to cut inside and shoot, you’ve got Antony playing at times, (Alejandro) Garnacho, they’re almost trying to be goalscoring wide players – who, at the minute, aren’t scoring goals. But they don’t provide crosses either.”
Of course, chance creation isn’t just restricted to attackers. Especially in the modern game, the role of the full-back in getting forward is just as important as their work defensively.
And Scholes is looking forward to the return of Luke Shaw, who created 34 chances last season, with only Fernandes, Christian Eriksen and Jadon Sancho creating more.
“When Luke Shaw comes back he will be a big bonus, I think he will cross the ball getting forward,” he added.
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“I think Dalot is capable of crossing the ball, if he gets in positions, but I worry about him in big games. I don’t think defensively, or his character, is strong enough to cope with big games.
“So, look, Hojlund needs help. There’s no doubt about that. Where’s the other centre-forward? You think of Martial, doesn’t play a game.
“I’m going back to our teams having four forwards, you’re looking at 80, 100 goals a season. Maybe 20 goals a season you’re guaranteed, on average, from each of them. Where is that in the team now? It’s just not there anymore.”