Attributing a striker’s goalless streak to a lack of confidence is a common tendency in football. However, when a reporter raised this question regarding Rasmus Hojlund’s ninth consecutive Premier League appearance without scoring against Luton Town, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag dismissed the notion.
Ten Hag argued, “I don’t think it is a confidence thing because Rasmus Hojlund scored five goals in the Champions League.” This perspective was supported by Hojlund’s remarkable achievement of becoming the first player in the club’s history to score five goals in his initial four Champions League games for United.
Despite his prolific performance in European competition, Hojlund finds himself being surpassed in Premier League goal-scoring by Neal Maupay and 156 other players. This stark contrast prompts an examination of the numbers behind Hojlund’s sluggish start in England’s top flight.
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When questioned about Hojlund’s goal drought in domestic competitions, Ten Hag has consistently expressed confidence, stating that “it will come.” The statistics provide some support for his optimism.
Expected goals (xG) quantifies the number of goals an average player would be anticipated to score based on the quality of chances presented to them. According to this metric, Hojlund has encountered considerable misfortune.
In terms of xG, no other Premier League player has registered a higher figure than Hojlund without finding the back of the net this season. Analyzing factors such as the number of shots, distance to goal, players in the vicinity, and more, Opta’s model (via FBref) indicates that Hojlund’s scoring opportunities have been valued at two to three goals.
Hojlund has notably missed eight ‘Big Chances,’ defined by Opta as situations where a player should reasonably be expected to score, typically in one-on-one scenarios or from very close range with a clear path to goal and low to moderate pressure on the shooter. Only three players in the league have squandered more of these opportunities (according to FotMob). With such promising chances continuing to come his way, it appears that Hojlund’s goal tally in the league will soon see an end to its drought.
However, had Hojlund lived up to statistical expectations, a tally of three goals from nine Premier League appearances does not seem like much of a return for a player who cost an initial £72m. In fact, when comparing Hojlund’s xG per 90 minutes (0.34) to the rest of the Premier League, he only just sneaks into the division’s top 30 most productive forwards.
While the likes of Liverpool‘s Darwin Nunez (0.85) and Manchester City’s Erling Haaland (0.80) lead the way, even Everton’s midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure (0.36) is getting on the end of more valuable chances than Manchester United’s centre-forward.
At Atalanta last season, Hojlund lined up with his xG to score nine goals from 20 Serie A starts. In the admittedly less revered Serie A, Hojlund was averaging 0.47 xG per 90 (according to FBref). Essentially, Hojlund has gone from getting on the end of chances worth one goal every two games to opportunities valued at one goal every three games.
Hojlund’s outrageous pace is one of his key assets. Gian Piero Gasperini, Hojlund’s manager at Atalanta, gushed: “He is so quick, he’s under 11 seconds over 100m and that’s not even trying very hard.”
In the Champions League, where all three of United’s opponents are the reigning champions of their respective countries and thereby more likely to try to take control of each contest, Hojlund has been afforded more space to sprint into. Three of Hojlund’s five European goals have come in transition, more than any other player in the competition.
Yet, Premier League opposition are far more wary of United’s threat on the break and have no superiority complex preventing them from camping out in their own defensive third. Hojlund is yet to be presented with a single Premier League shot in transition.