SOME questioned whether it might take time for Erling Haaland to adapt to his new surroundings in the Premier League. There was some logic behind this argument. While Haaland clearly had the physical and technical attributes to thrive in England’s top-flight, he is a different sort of centre forward for Manchester City.
But this is precisely why Haaland has hit the ground running for his new team, scoring 14 goals in just nine appearances. The 22-year-old offers a different dimension in the final third for Pep Guardiola’s team. It doesn’t matter so much that Haaland is isolated for large periods of time when he is so clinical with the chances he is presented.
The problem posed by Haaland to opposition teams is an obvious one – he has the pace to get in behind a high defensive line and the finishing ability to score from anywhere 20 yards out from goal. Even when opponents get close to the Norwegian, his physical strength allows him to stay on the ball. He is destined to be one of the greatest goal-scorers of his generation.
To stop Haaland, opponents must prevent the 22-year-old from finding space inside the penalty box. Of course, this is easier said than done, but Haaland scored 95% of his goals from inside 18 yards last season. Defenders stand their best chance of stopping Haaland if they can prevent him from entering the box in the first place.
Opposition defences must keep the spaces between their centre backs tight to stop Haaland from bursting through the middle of them, as he has done more than once already this season. Once Haaland is allowed to build up pace and momentum, he has the physicality to barge through anyone who gets in his way.
Teams that have had success against Manchester City this season have pushed the Premier League champions wide, most notably to the right side. Haaland is most effective when he is fed through passes from the left wing, as demonstrated by the location of the assists made for the Norwegian striker over the course of his career. That channel must be closed off.
“Read where the space is,” Guardiola said when asked where Haaland could still improve his game. “There are spaces where he can drop, but there are moments when it’s not necessary to drop because the space is not there. And of course he’s a guy who’s in the box. We want to play a lot of the time in there, to produce a lot of goals and put a lot of balls in there to make him feel comfortable and to use his incredible weapon. He’s a guy who arrives in the box and has a sense that he can score.”
This is the frightening thing for opponents who believe they have a plan to stop Haaland – the Norwegian striker is still young and will continue to adapt his game.
At 22, Haaland can be the face of Manchester City for years to come. More Premier League defenders will try and fail to stop him.