Manchester United have been pursuing the young Dane for months, with manager Erik ten Hag making it clear that signing a striker is a top priority this summer.
But what does Hojlund have to compare with Haaland?
Haaland has a combination of speed, power and physicality that few have ever had in world football. He is 1.94m tall but extremely agile and delicate when needed. Man City’s No. 9 is not a big striker who only relies on bodybuilding and fitness.
Since playing explosively with Molde, Haaland has become a “goal machine” for Red Bull Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund and Man City. In the 2022/23 season, Haaland has scored 52 goals in 53 games for Man City. In two and a half seasons with Dortmund, he also scored 86 goals in 89 appearances. The record with RB Salzburg is 29 goals after 27 matches.
It seems that no defense can stop him. The striker once scored 9 goals in a match for Norway U20 and his record for the national team is 21 goals in 23 appearances.
With these numbers, it is difficult for a striker to compare with Haaland. However, Hojlund is gradually proving himself worthy.
At first glance, the similarities between Haaland and Rasmus Hojlund are quite obvious. The Scandinavian duo has blond hair, both are over 1.8m tall, are left-footed and have the ability to sniff out goals.
In a recent interview, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini compared his summer signing to City’s “scoring machine”: “Hojlund has the spirit, the energy, the intensity, but He also has remarkable technical quality. Of course, he still has a lot to improve. He has very similar characteristics to Haaland. Hojlund is very fast. He runs the 100m in under 11 seconds and that. he doesn’t even have to try very hard. Although he is quite tall, he has a low center of gravity. I believe he will have a great career and he will get stronger every day.”
Hojlund moved to Atalanta’s Gewiss stadium last summer, in a deal worth £15m. The move comes just seven months after Sturm Graz spent £1.5m to bring him from Copenhagen to the Austrian Bundesliga.
The 20-year-old had yet to score a goal for Denmark before moving to Austria, but the switch seems to have reinvigorated his fledgling career.
In the 2021/22 season, Hojlund scored 6 goals in 1,156 minutes from an expected goal score (xG) of 5.2 to help Sturm Graz rise to 2nd place, behind Red Bull Salzburg. There have been indications that Hojlund possesses the instincts and intelligence needed to become a “scoring machine”.
His shooting map above shows a wide range of shots from inside the box and only 8 other players have a better xG per shot than his 0.2 in throughout the season. Those basic numbers show that, for every 5 shots, Hojlund will score 1 goal.
Besides his impressive speed, Hojlund also has excellent touch skills. It sounds simple, but even the most experienced strikers are confused when receiving the ball in the opponent’s penalty area.
Hojlund’s clever touches forced the keeper to rush to save. And it is during the goalkeeper movement that many openings will be created. At that time, Hojlund will finish and the chance of success will be higher. Sounds like the way Haaland still scores, doesn’t it?
Another characteristic of Hojlund’s playstyle that is quite similar to Haaland’s is his desire to play in the central areas. A lot of strikers these days will prefer to move into wider areas to find space. But these two are different.
Despite playing in various systems for Atalanta, Hojlund still received the ball in the center, just as he did at Sturm Graz. In fact, when comparing Hojlund’s touchdown maps at those two teams, they were identical.
The finishing map and basic numbers at the two teams are also very similar, and that shows that Hojlund still maintains his play style despite moving to play in a more difficult and competitive tournament.
Over the course of 1,832 minutes in Serie A this season, Hojlund has scored nine goals with an xG of 9.5, his xG per shot average of 0.18, close to what was at Sturm Graz. Hojlund has only taken three shots from outside the box in Serie A this season, and even those shots are within two yards of the box.
Hojlund is not one to waste the ball with shots that don’t really work. Instead, he always finds a way to finish from the best positions.
Hojlund often dropped deep when Atalanta regained possession. But as soon as the ball is crossed, Hojlund will quickly penetrate the penalty area and finish the ball up by finishing from about 5m.
The Dane can linger on the edge of the box, waiting for a pass. But instead, he wants to make sure his shot is a high-value opportunity if the ball gets to his feet. Therefore, he will move to stretch the opponent’s defense and penetrate when the opportunity comes.
Haaland is exactly the same and that’s why so many of his goals look like easy shots.
But while there are a lot of similarities between the two, both physically and stylistically, there are also differences. Some of these may be tied to their role in the system but some will relate to them only as individuals.
For example, Hojlund is still not a “monster” in terms of finishing frequency. During his time with Sturm Graz and Atalanta, he averaged 2.4 shots per 90 minutes and had a xG per 90 minutes rate of 0.41.
By comparison, Haaland has averaged 3.8 shots per 90 minutes during his spells with Red Bull Salzburg, Dortmund and Man City. He has an average xG per 90 minutes of 0.9 and Haaland’s shot-per-game trend is increasing every year.
However, Hojlund also shows that he is improving day by day. His xG per 90 minutes in the 2022/23 season is 0.47. This is a very respectable rate in Serie A and only 10 players have better stats than him.
In addition, Hojlund tends to head slightly higher than Haaland, 24% of shots compared to 22% for Haaland. Hojlund also uses his non-dominant foot more than Haaland, 25% of the shots compared to Haaland’s 15%.
Given the ages of both strikers, these are obviously small, but important differences. Because, while Hojlund hasn’t scored as many goals as Haaland, his diverse shot selection makes them more unpredictable. Unpredictability in the box is a useful trait to have, especially as a goalscorer, and Hojlund is getting it.
Therefore, the growing interest in the 20-year-old player is understandable. He’s still not perfect, especially with his playability, but that can be improved over time.
Hojlund is a player who possesses intelligent movement, strength, speed and the ability to score many goals. He could soon follow Haaland to the Premier League. If placed and deployed in the right squad, Hojlund can bring great value, as well as create the same impact as his Norwegian counterpart in the English top flight.