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Analysing Rasmus Højlund’s debut for Manchester United vs Arsenal



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Credit: Imago / Sky Sports

Manchester United held a gutting injury-time loss to Arsenal on Sunday, after fighting hard to the very end and being unlucky not to win it.

There were many positives to take from the performance, and one of those was the debut of this summer’s most expensive signing: Rasmus Højlund.

The Danish sensation had to wait a bit to make his United bow due to some injury issues, but United fans have been incredibly excited to see him and if his cameo against Arsenal is anything to go by, that excitement will only grow over the international break.

Replacing Anthony Martial in the 67th minute – a player once in Højlund’s shoes as a young, expensive, and unproven signing – he didn’t quite have the impact Martial did on his own debut for United but he most certainly made his mark.

From the off, Højlund displayed the hunger, speed, and energy that he pledged to United upon signing, fighting Gabriel for the first ball that hit the channels. It was a breath of fresh air to see a centre forward battling so hard to win the ball. He also had a shout for a penalty that was probably correctly dismissed, but it would not have existed without his battling mentality whenever the ball is up for grabs.

He would not leave Gabriel alone, every time the opportunity arose to battle with his opposing centre half he took it, and whilst the stat line will show that Gabriel won the duel, Højlund certainly didn’t make it easy for him to win them. As his fitness levels increase and he gets more minutes as a United player, the Old Trafford faithful will only see more and more of the 20-year-old’s combative nature.

United’s new number 11 has an excellent frame, standing at 6’3. He also possesses a lot of physical power. Whilst some of the smaller details need refinement, this mixed with his combative nature gives him the tools to hold the ball up, providing United with an outlet to aim at and relieve pressure through when under a high press.

There were a couple of examples of how this could benefit United in his cameo. In one, United cleared the ball higher up the field from the throw in and the substitute held off Gabriel excellently, allowing his teammates time to catch up and Bruno Fernandes took the ball from him, before playing it wide to Rashford who won a corner.

We can see here how his hold-up play directly led to a good opportunity for United. His ability to link play together is directly linked to his hold-up too, and he has a good technical base for his size. This link-up actually led to Alejandro Garnacho’s offside goal. After recovering the ball in midfield, Fernandes passed to Højlund. His first-time flick to the onrushing Casemiro completely removed William Saliba from the game, and we know the rest…

One other thing he showed he will bring to United, one of the biggest, is his box presence. On the UtdDistrict YouTube channel a few weeks ago, I spoke about how Højlund’s presence and demand that you create for him would balance out United’s creation in attack, which at times has been overly focused on Marcus Rashford due to a lack of threat elsewhere.

There was one moment in particular where this was highlighted, within five minutes of him entering the field of play. It was Rashford himself who created the opportunity, having been found on the wing with an isolation against Ben White.

Højlund looks to break away from Gabriel, using his burst & long arms to create separation
He tries to finish cleverly, it is blocked by Gabriel but just his presence and willingness to attack the space is a positive already

Beating him with a clever flip flap, Rashford looked to cut it back to Højlund, who was on the move in the six-yard box. Often in similar positions, Rashford has looked to take a shot due to having no passing options. Now he is looking to create, and Højlund’s presence in the box could well see Rashford have his best-ever creative season.

The outcome of the game was disappointing, but Rasmus Højlund can leave with his head held high, and fans will be excited to see him at Old Trafford once the international break is over.