Man Utd’s Rasmus Hojlund had a dizzying ride in City loss as problem building

Manchester United vs Manchester City in pictures

Rasmus Hojlund bore the disorientated and slightly sea-sick look of someone who had been trapped in a tumble drier for 73 minutes when he dejectedly was hauled off early by Erik ten Hag yesterday. There was booing from the United faithful as he departed. Not towards the Dane but towards Erik ten Hag’s decision to take his £72m striker off.

Old Trafford recognises the talent – and the effort – but in this United team their star signing is struggling to keep his head above water. At 20, he has – by his own admission – a lot to learn still and in the company of the European champions it showed.

Caught on the City carousel yesterday as the apex of a United side who did not know whether they were coming or going, it was a dizzying ride. And not in a fun way. Hojlund gave away the penalty for City’s opening goal and ran down a cul-de-sac when presented with the chance to make amends while United were still in the contest in the first half.

He has shown glimpses of his hold-up skills, his strength and the link-up play at United and he never stops running but for all his endeavour you can see the confidence beginning to drain. That is seven games and seven blanks for Hojlund in the Premier League. Any comparison with Erling Haaland is invidious but at the same stage of his career across Manchester he had 11 goals.

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Hojland ranks in the bottom ten of players in the Premier League for expected goals this season. Numbers can be made to mean anything but, translated, that means he is struggling to hit a barn door with a banjo.

The penalty concession was harsh – Rodri made the most of the chance to go down once he felt Hojlund’s hands on him – but the blunder at the other end after Phil Foden had inadvertently put him through showed a striker grasping too hard for the lifeline of his first league goal for his new club. One clumsy touch, one toe-in from John Stones and the chance had evaporated. Nothing resembling it appeared for the rest of the afternoon.

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Even when a half-inch of space opened up, Kyle Walker was there in a flash to whip the ball off him. It is asking a lot of Hojlund to lead the line for United at such a tender age. It would be better for him – and United – if he were able to learn the ropes off a senior pro up front.

In the absence of such a figure – unless you include Anthony Martial which would be unwise – he is left to try to work it out for himself. Hojlund will have learned a lot from yesterday’s experience – one of the main things being that he has signed for a horribly inferior team.

The gulf, as City chose derby day to move into a higher gear and expose United’s many, many inadequacies, was awkward verging on embarrassing at times. It was blue murder. Ten Hag’s side are not the first to have been played like marionettes by Pep Guardiola’s men but this sort of thing is not meant to happen at Old Trafford.

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