Manchester United have not had a good start to the season. For the first time since 1989, the Red Devils have lost three of their first five league matches. Saturday’s defeat to Brighton at Old Trafford was also pockmarked by boos when debutant Rasmus Hojlund was taken off.
The Dane was a bright spark despite the 3-1 loss and had a goal ruled out in the first half. But United supporters were not happy when the £72million summer signing was withdrawn on 64 minutes. There were audible boos as the centre-forward made his way off the pitch.
Erik ten Hag later claimed the jeers were a “positive” because it showed that Hojlund had made an immediate impact at United. The Dutchman explained: “You see the fans in the first moment at Old Trafford, the reception was great, he performed very well. It was good they gave this signal, will give him belief. He came in with a small issue, he is not ready for a whole game.”
That Hojlund is not available to play a full 90 minutes yet is a concern, however. He arrived recovering from a stress fracture in his back. The player said: “It was a small thing, I have never really been able to feel any pain myself at any time. It was just something that had to be respected, and it has been done, so now it’s out of the way.”
It will be a while longer before Ten Hag deems his new No 11 fit enough to last a full match, or capable of playing multiple 90s per week. Given Anthony Martial’s poor form and the absences of Jadon Sancho and Antony, it is a problem United could do without.
They face Bayern Munich in their Champions League opener in midweek in a daunting trip to the Allianz Arena. After that there is a run of must-win matches prior to the October international break. They face Burnley away, back-to-back home games against Crystal Palace (one is in the Carabao Cup), Galatasaray at home and finally Brentford away.
Off the evidence of his debut, and the form of his team-mates, Hojlund will be needed to start regularly in that run of games. But if he can only play 60 to 70 minutes at most per match for another few weeks, Ten Hag needs his other attackers to step up.
The onus will fall upon Rashford, who was wasteful against Brighton, and Bruno Fernandes primarily. Martial and the returning summer signing Mason Mount must produce too. The senior quartet must ensure the pressure on Hojlund, and also fellow youngsters Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri, is not too great.
Hojlund’s fellow Denmark international Christian Eriksen said post-Brighton: “It was unlucky for Rasmus, his debut here, it was disallowed, but I’m sure he’ll turn it around and score a lot more goals. He played very well. But there are some details they have to learn.
“We have to learn about them, but that only comes with the games, so hopefully there’s a lot more for a better connection.” Ten Hag desperately needs United to develop that connection as fast as possible. But for that, he needs Hojlund at 100 per cent.