Marcus Rashford and Casemiro sum up Man Utd problem as Hojlund inspires win

Rasmus Hojlund’s early brace helped Manchester United squeeze past an impressive Luton at Kenilworth Road. The Red Devils survived a late onslaught – including seeing Ross Barkley’s header hit the crossbar – to maintain their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. Here are five things Express Sport took away from the game.

Hojlund’s fast start

Hojlund’s critics are quickly back-tracking. Having not scored in his first 14 Premier League appearances, the Danish striker has now bagged eight goals in his last seven matches.

The variation of Hojlund’s finishing is the most impressive aspect of his repertoire. Against West Ham, it was a powerful strike from outside the box with his weaker right foot. Against Aston Villa, it was a poacher’s prod from six yards.

Against Luton, the 21-year-old bore down on goal after Amari’i Bell’s woeful backpass, took a touch to the side of goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski and finished low into the net. To score his first Premier League brace seven minutes later, he directed Alejandro Garnacho’s volley into the net via his chest.

It would be unfair to suggest – especially based on his red-hot form – that Hojlund did not entirely intend to guide the ball home. The summer signing will be key to any success United experience with INEOS at the helm.

United’s lack of control

For most other Premier League teams, this game would have been wrapped up after seven minutes. It was incredulous that Luton were allowed back into the match having gone 2-0 down so early on.

Carlton Morris headed Luton back into the game as United’s performance drastically dropped off. Barkley hit the ball and Albert Sambi Lokonga went close. A better side might have completed a turnaround to undo all of the Red Devils’ good work in the first quarter of the game.

Rashford and Casemiro underwhelm

Chiefly responsible for an absence of control after going ahead were Marcus Rashford and Casemiro. Rashford wasted several attacks with poor choices of pass, and on one particular occasion frustrated Luke Shaw by overhitting a pass as the full-back overlapped.

Casemiro was fortunate not to be sent off before half-time, having lunged into Bell when he was already on a yellow card. The Brazilian midfielder did not make it out for the second half – somewhat telling of Ten Hag’s feelings on whether the veteran should have been dismissed.

When United’s most experienced players lose their composure, it cannot always be expected that their younger colleagues carry the mantle.

Champions League within touching distance

Even being in with a chance of qualification for the Champions League seemed a surreal proposition for United in December. But they are now only five points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa, and three behind Tottenham in fifth.

Ten Hag was keen to downplay his side’s hopes of finishing in the top four. But the Dutchman cannot ignore the surprise window that has opened thanks to Spurs’ inconsistency.

Finishing fourth would be a major win for Ten Hag in his effort to convince the United hierarchy that he is the long-term solution to the club’s failure to keep up with Manchester City and Liverpool.