Football video games are usually criticized because they do not represent the reality, but we have already seen with stories like Will Still that they can also bring positive aspects. The first time that I heard of Rasmus Winther Højlund was in the FIFA video game where some youtubers sign young promises for their teams trusting that they can blow up and increase their average. Actually, a youtuber, who is also a footballer at the 3rd division, Kolderiu signed a young Danish who would end up being one of the best strikers in the world and the Golden Ball in the video game. However, a video game is not the same as the real life.
Nevertheless, this gave me the opportunity to hear his name for the first time and keep track of him every week, even though I did not have enough time to watch as much football as I wanted. But one of the best things of the Serie A is their YouTube channel, where they post highlights, goals and saves from all their games. A must see for a football follower and something that allows you to get to know the players.
When you watch the games from Atalanta, your eyes go straight to that 20 years old striker, 1,90 tall, blonde and left footer. Does not this description remind you of someone? Højlund is very similar to Haaland.
In order to provide you with some context, the Danish striker began in the the biggest team of his country (Coenhague), from where he was traded because he did not make great numbers due to his extreme youth. The next step in his career was to one of the biggest clubs in Austria (Sturm Graz), where he earned great scoring stats.
This resulted in an important trade for 17 million euros at the start of the 22/23 season to a top team of a great European league (Atalanta). Due to the great performing that he is showing in Italy, this summer he could join to a big European fish such as Manchester United.
Have not we seen this before? A striker from the north of Europe that starts in his country (Molde), goes through Austria (Salzburg), signs for a great league (Borussia Dortmund) and ends up playing in Manchester (Manchester City?
How is he on the field?
I have not had the opportunity to enjoy the Danish as much as the Norwegian due to lack of time, but they both follow a very recognizable pattern. Højlund and Haaland are two extremely tall strikers and are strong physically to battle defenders, but what it really different them from the rest is their speed.
Atalanta’s head coach Gasperini pointed out that his player was able to run 100 meters in less than 11 seconds, which is something typical from an elite runner, and also something that he had already seen with Haaland at Dortmund. And the coach was right, as we proved that in a play against Lazio where, despite not scoring, he dragged the attention from the entire league due to his speed.
Physically, they both seem to have been created through a computer, but, do they really look to each other on the field? The answer is yes, at least in some aspects.
In order to make this comparison, we must take out Haaland’s scoring hunger, as he has already scored more than a goal per game this season (38 goals between the Premier and Champions League in 32 games), something that no other player in the planet has been able to match. Taking a look at his stats on Fberef against the rest of strikers in the top five leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga y Ligue 1), we can see that he is the best striker in the world at everything related to shooting, and we can stand out those 1,26 goals every 90 minutes that put him above the 99% of strikers.
In order to help you out to understand these graphics, the data is even better the higher is the percentage you look at. The most spectacular aspect is his positive difference of + 0.32 goals per game between expected goals and the quantity he should have scored based on the quality of his chances. According to these data, he should have scored 27 goals this season, but instead he has scored 38, which is an 11 goals difference. Haaland scores whatever seems impossible to him. He is a created robot for goals.
Even though Højlund’s data are very far away from Haaland’s, they are still very good for a 20 years old striker, as he has scored 15 goals and given 3 assists in 30 games (23 at Atalanta, 5 at Sturm Graz and 2 with Denmark). However, the stat improves if you see that he has only started in 14 out of those 23 games with Atalanta, which really increases his ratio goals per minute: one every 103 minutes (18 G + A in 1860 minutes).
If we take a look at his percentiles, the aspect that stands out the most is that, just like Haaland, he also scores more goals than what he should based on the quality of his chances. A decent 0.07% that puts him among the best 27% in Europe in this category (very far away from Haaland’s data, that is among the best 1%).
These data supports what the eye test shows: Højlund has scoring capacity. The Danish has the most wanted quality in a striker. The first thing that stands out from him when you watch him play is his instinct inside the box, as he always attacks the first post to finish.
As I mentioned before, his speed is also key. He is unstoppable when attacking your back. Just as it happens with Haaland, it is kind of strange to see such a big body moving so fast. Furthermore, the Danish is also tough when crashing with other defenders.
However, there is no doubt that the aspect he attracts you the most is is technical quality. Højlund loves to participate more in the game than Haaland. He goes out the box more often and joins in on building the play, as he is really good at controlling the ball. He scored an outstanding goal against Spezia where he made a great touch, turned himself back and surpassed the defender in order to finish, a clear action that shows his difference with Haaland.
His data on creation are very representative. They are better than Haaland’s, as while the Norwegian is at the 31 percentile for the chances that end up in shots, Højlund is among the 78 percentile (which means that he is among the best 22% of strikers in Europe in this category).
He is a very powerful player inside the box. Despite that, it seems almost impossible that someone can match Haaland in this aspect, but he certainly seems to have more associative and technique capacity outside the box. Højlund is more participative, but less killer.
This is also proven with his playing maps from Sofascore, as the Norwegian’s is more focused on his attacking areas, while the Danish’s is more spread out and accumulates more participation outside the box. This is really impacted by his playing style, as while Højlund has more space thanks to the playing style of his team, Haaland is asked to be more focused on finishing due to the constant domain by Manchester City.
Specialized journalist in Italian football such as Irati Prat were warning us of this young star for several months, but it seems that those five goals in the International break with Denmark have increased all the expectations with Atalanta’s 17.
Norwegian-Denmark; Molde-Copenhague; Salzburg-Sturm Graz; Borussia Dortmund-Atalanta; Manchester City-Manchester United?
There are chances that he can get stuck and does not take that last step to establish himself in the top European elite, but are we ahead of the born of a new goal robot?
Will Højlund be the new Haaland?
Translated by Guillermo Bermejo.
Main image: @Atalanta_BC.