Rasmus Hojlund is already off the mark for Manchester United and had he had a little more luck, he could have scored two goals in two games for the Premier League side.
A goal in his home debut was ruled out because the ball had marginally crossed the line before Marcus Rashford crossed it to him. The goal against Bayern Munich in his first Champions League game for United was impressive.
Nobody wants to heap too much pressure on the 20 year old to deliver week in, week out in his first season for the club, but there are expectations, even from his teammates.
According to The Athletic, when the deal to bring him to the club was being negotiated, “United’s players kept track of events while on tour”. They wanted a centre forward.
The report adds that “during some downtime at the Estancia La Jolla Hotel, United’s base in San Diego, winger Alejandro Garnacho discussed with team-mates how he wanted the club to sign a striker who could attack crosses in the box.”
Garnacho’s words are not a criticism of experienced striker Anthony Martial. Although struggling for form recently, the Frenchman can be unplayable on his day.
But he is not that kind of striker. He is a dribbler, a clinical finisher and a mercurial trickster. He is not a predator in the box famed for flinging himself at a cross and finding a way to bundle it into the net.
Back in 2019, then United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called for his strikers to develop poacher’s instincts.
“It’s about those scrappy goals now,” Solskjaer said. “We have young players and they’ve got to learn to score those nasty little tap-ins that I did.”
Nothing much has changed in the four years that followed.
For Garnacho and, no doubt, for all United’s wingers, the predatory striker is the one that puts the finishing touches on their work. The paocher is the one who converts a winger’s efforts into assists.
In the same article, The Athletic note that “In an ideal world, Ten Hag would have liked a Premier League-proven centre-forward to go with Hojlund,” and this is putting it mildly. It is no coincence that United won the treble with four top-class strikers.
Obviously, football has changed since 1999 and the out-and-out striker – and indeed, playing two of them in one side – is not as vital as it used to be.
But few would argue that Erling Haaland turned Manchester City from Premier League winners into treble winners. Bayern Munich became a shadow of their former selves between Robert Lewandowski leaving and Harry Kane joining.
What makes United’s need for a predator all the more urgent is that they have always typically played with traditional wingers like Garnacho.
No doubt when the likes of Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo were acquired, United thought they had plugged this gap. That two of the world’s best goalscorers have (eventually, by way of Wout Weghorst) been replaced by one 20 year old is not ideal. But it is certainly a step in the right direction.