‘Hojlund shows Styles why he is Man Utd’s headline act’

18 February 2024 0 By Total Football News

Rasmus Hojlund celebrates scoring for Manchester United at LutonRasmus Hojlund has scored eight goals in his past eight games, having netted five times in his first 21 matches this season

Harry Styles provided a sprinkle of stardust in the Kenilworth Road directors’ box but Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag was left celebrating his own latest headline act in Rasmus Hojlund.

Styles, a United supporter and now a solo superstar after his spectacular successes with One Direction, played the role of adoring fan as Hojlund showed he might just be the real deal by scoring for the sixth successive Premier League game in this hard-fought 2-1 win at Luton Town.

Heads and phone camera flashlights may have turned in Styles’ direction as he sat locked in conversation with Luton’s battle-hardened chief recruitment officer Mick Harford before the game but it was Hojlund who took centre stage, earning the acclaim of the global idol as he applauded the 21-year-old Dane’s performance.

And how United needed Hojlund, because there was far more to their victory than meets the eye. At times, this was a real struggle, before the sheer fire and brimstone of Luton’s approach was doused amid the magnificent atmosphere inside ‘The Kenny’.

The striker, a £72m summer signing from Atalanta, took until Boxing Day to open his Premier League goal account but there was never any doubt about his work-rate and attitude, which have now been augmented by goals. Lots of them.

He was handed a gift by Luton defender Amari’i Bell’s error after only 37 seconds but it still required composure to go around home keeper Thomas Kaminski to complete the job.

This added Hojlund’s name to an illustrious list of United players to score in six successive Premier League games, going alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Eric Cantona.

It was United’s fastest Premier League goal away from home while, at 21 years and 14 days, Hojlund became the youngest player to score in six successive league games, beating the record of Newcastle’s Joe Willock.

If the Dane’s first demonstrated a goalscorer’s calm, his second showed commendable improvisation and quick-thinking as he used his chest to divert Alejandro Garnacho’s shot past Kaminski after only seven minutes.

Ten Hag had no doubts about his big money purchase, saying: “We recruited him on his character. I knew it was strong. He can really perform under stress and that is something you need as a Manchester United striker. He doesn’t get nervous or lose confidence.”

Hojlund is certainly helping his side build up a head of steam to challenge for the top four and a place in next season’s Champions League, something that has often appeared a far-fetched notion after some of their performances this season.

It is certainly at the forefront of Ten Hag’s thoughts after a fourth successive league win as he said: “I think we are back in the race. We are building momentum. Every game is a final to get closer to the other teams.”

This was the good portion in the visitors’ first half. Ten Hag will be delighted with a triumph that leaves them only five points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa, but there were still plenty of sources of concern.

Harry Styles watches Luton's game against Manchester UnitedPop singer Harry Styles watched from the Kenilworth Road stands and was sat next to former Luton striker Mick Harford (right)

United have a nasty habit of losing control of games they appear to have in their grasp, as proved recently against League Two Newport County in the FA Cup and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the league.

It happened again here.

Luton, rather than getting down on themselves at 2-0, probed United’s frailties with fierce determination. And found plenty of them after Carlton Morris bundled home a header after 14 minutes.

The manner in which Harry Maguire and Casemiro, in particular, were run ragged will have sounded alarm bells, the England defender reduced to a horribly crude, agricultural block on Morris as he raced passed him, earning a deserved booking. Casemiro’s inability to exert his influence saw him sail dangerously close to a second yellow card so it was no surprise when they were both withdrawn at half-time.

In among an air of chaos, Ten Hag’s side found another young leader who gives them golden hope for the future in the shape of Kobbie Mainoo.

At just 18, Mainoo was simply outstanding, showing a maturity far beyond those tender years and a control that was beyond many of his vastly more experienced team-mates, cool and strong in possession with a wonderful ability to pick passes.

Former England striker Ian Wright insisted the midfielder should be in the next England squad for friendlies in March against Brazil and Belgium, drawing admiring agreement from Gary Lineker.

Moving up an age grade from England Under-19s may be Mainoo’s next stop but there is so much to admire about his game, his approach and the way he has an impact on events that Wright’s call does not seem too much of a stretch.

There is always room for a “bolter” – the figure who comes late and from nowhere into a squad – before a major tournament. Could Mainoo be England’s for Euro 2024 in Germany this summer?

The Football Association is aware of Ghana’s interest in laying claim to the young midfielder. On this evidence, along with the evidence of pretty much every game he has played, England will not want to let this gem escape their grasp.

Hojlund and Mainoo were the two stars of this mixed United show – even outshining the onlooking idol enjoying his day out in Bedfordshire.

How to follow Manchester United on the BBC banner
Manchester United banner footer