Rasmus Hojlund gesture to stricken André Onana was missed by TV cameras
André Onana is grabbing the (unwanted) headlines, but another big summer signing looks to be money well spent.
There was a moment, as Manchester United were conspiring to lose their sixth game of the new season on Tuesday night, when one was struck by the thought - if these lads don't get their act together soon, they will lose Rasmus Hojlund.
The 20-year-old Dane arrived at United with no small task asked of him. He was bought to fill the gap vacated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood. Marcus Rashford can lead the line, at a stretch, but prefers the left side of an attacking unit. Out of the top six Premier League sides, last season, United had the lowest 'goals scored' total - 10 short of Newcastle and 36 shy of champions Manchester City.
While Erik ten Hag would have wanted another 30-goal season from Marcus Rashford, and the likes of Antony, Alejandro Garnacho and [dare we say] Jadon Sancho to all contribute more goals, the burden was being placed on Hojlund. A stress fracture in his back caused a delayed start to his United playing career but from the moment he came on as a sub in an away defeat to Arsenal, you just know he has something about him.
Against Galatasaray, he scored his second and third goals of the season, and had another - a superbly taken finish - ruled out for offside. The Dane's goal that put United 2-1 in front was a sensation. It should have been the moment United's season finally got up and running [10 games in]. Old Trafford had been quiet for long stretches but the home fans had found their voice in the final 30 minutes, urging their side on.
Christian Eriksen came on at the start of the second half and was a joy to watch. Eriksen is only 31 but seemed to flag as last season - his first full tilt since his June 2021 cardiac arrest - wore on. He can sometimes feel like an expensive luxury when United are up against it, facing top quality opposition, but Tuesday night showed why Erik ten Hag should try his best to accommodate him in his starting XIs.
United's passing was crisper, there were more first-time balls, one-touch football and balls both over the top and around the corner. Hojlind's second goal, sprinting from the half-way line and holding off a defender before dinking the ball over the onrushing Fernando Muslera, felt like a huge moment for his club. Rio Ferdinand would later observe, on TNT Sports, that it felt like United had found 'new heroes'.
And then it all went south. Again. That lead goal for United came on 67 minutes. 14 minutes later, they trailed 3-2, Galatasaray had missed a penalty and Casemiro had been sent off. There were still 15 minutes to play [with added time included] but the moment Mauro Icardi chipped the poor André Onana, it was game over.
Rasmus Hojlund the bright spark in a dark, dark spot
Manchester United supporters must be wondering what in the name of hell is going on with their club. Erik ten Hag had led United to third in the Premier League, last season, as well as a League Cup win and defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup final.
The Glazer family looked intent on finally selling their stake in the club, after glomming on for 18 years, and ten Hag had transfer plans - more deadwood out, fresh bodies in. As we now know, the Glazers believe they can rinse even more money from the sale of the club - possibly even £10 billion - so they are happy to do the bare minimum until that day comes.
Ten Hag did not get all his wishes granted, and that will be frustrating, but he has not helped by cribbing about an injury crisis when he has one of the most expensively assembled squads in European football, and Brighton are playing his side off the park with a team put together from academy players, loans and £16.7 million worth of signings.
The Arsenal game - when Rasmus Hojlund made his debut - in early September could have been the catalyst, but Alejandro Garnacho's brilliantly taken goal was ruled out for a marginal offside [ten Hag was not happy with the camera angles used] and the scoreline reverted to 1-1. Arsenal doubled down on their anguish by rifling two lad goals, and United have not recovered yet.
At full-time in Old Trafford, on Tuesday night, Hojlund approached struggling goalkeeper André Onana, gave him a hug and shouted words of consolation, trying to drown out the din of celebrating Turkish fans. The fact that so many Galatasary fans were able to pick up re-sold tickets outside of the away end and have sizeable pockets of support sprinkled around Old Trafford only added to the madness, and noise.
It should have been Hojlund's night, but his inept teammates [just look at the Icardi goal] stole that from him. Still, here he was giving his much more experienced and decorated goalkeeper a pep talk - we've got you. It was not picked up by TV cameras, but Getty photographer Michael Reagan captured the moment.
A team lacking leaders
Following that 3-2 United defeat, their sixth in 10 games this season, Christian Eriksen was sent out to give his post-match musing to TNT Sports.
"I think we had some good spells in the game, but at the moment when we go ahead, we always seem to concede shortly after," the Danish midfielder reflected. "Of course, that makes it very difficult for us to keep control of the game and that's something that we have to change very quickly.
"I don't think it's the confidence, it's more the lack of awareness and sharpness to really keep ourselves in form and stay ahead twice - we shouldn't be throwing that away and we've done that in other games this season."
The players and manager are aware that they need to keep it tight, especially after scoring goals, and yet they are making the same mistakes time and again. That shows, among the other red flags at the club, a severe lack of leadership. There never appears to be anyone at United that pulls the heads in and gets them all dialled in for the big moments.
While André Onana is a man flailing in front of our eyes, it is worth remembering that David De Gea also struggled in his first season at the club before settling into United's best player of the past decade. If he can stop committing early when players are through on his goal, he will go a long way to righting the ship. Stopping basic shots on goal would be handy, too.
There are already excuses being made for Mason Mount - 'he needs a goal', 'he's desperate for a goal' - but the lad needs to get his act together quickly and find the best way of helping out his team. He looks a bit lost, at present.
Marcus Rashford is back in a slump - one goal this season and confidence low - while it is staggering that Anthony Martial is still at the club. It feels like George Costanza, when he quit his job then showed up a couple of days later and pretended nothing had happened - "I don't know where you're getting this from?!"
Rahaël Varane and Casemiro were shown up for pace by Manchester City in last season's FA Cup final. Two great footballers now on the back nine, teams know full well that both can be got at. We could go across almost the entire XI from that latest defeat - Sofyan Amrabat could still do well in midfield but he is not a left back - but we all have days to get on with.
The player that shone like a beacon for Manchester United was Rasmus Hojlund and if his club do not get their act together, a well run outfit will come in and take him away in a season or two.
The 20-year-old has played seven times for United, so far, and already looks too good for them.
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