Erling Haaland to Manchester City: How could Pep Guardiola change his tactics to exploit star striker?

There is no certainty about football transfers. Indeed, you only need to peruse the list of the most expensive purchases in football history to conclude that the correlation between compensation and success on the pitch is minimal at best.

Maybe that will help Erling Haaland will not occupy the same lofty stratosphere as Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Eden Hazard. City are paying just over half the price those over $100 million players went for in a deal where Haaland and his advisers have ensured that most of the money paid for the player’s services goes to Haaland. and his advisers.

For a $63 million transfer fee, a sizable agent commission and roughly $450,000 a week in wages, City have secured a goal-a-game striker who at the age of 22 may be years away from his prime. Here’s a diamond that could use some polishing, one that could be the crowning glory for a team on their way to winning a fourth Premier League title. Pep Guardiola has managed just fine without a classic striker. Now he has one of the best in the world.

It’s not as if City lacked goals without Haaland. This season they have scored 145 goals in 56 games and are on their way to finish the campaign with a triple goal difference. The oft-cited lack of a central striker has cropped up in how many games this season? Perhaps the defeat to Tottenham that flashed a myriad of crosses over? Hugo Lloris‘ six meter box? You could argue the Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid, but that would be a bad day to be confused for Riyadh Mahrezi with a lack of finishing quality (the Algerian outperformed his expected goals in each of the last five Premier League seasons).

Haaland will help them increase those goals or at the very least explore the outer reaches of how much a team can achieve achievable. He fits into Guardiola’s system more easily than would be assumed. For a 21 year old, he has a supernatural understanding of manipulating defenses, perfect for shooting Kevin De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo’s crosses level with the penalty area or even to get behind for those classic City cuts.

He already does the latter. His extensive Dortmund portfolio is filled with moments when he makes the right run at the right time to make up for a teammate’s cutback.

Hoffenheim defenders seem well placed to deal with Haaland, even if Dortmund threaten on the left

Wyscout/Digisport

His movement is impeccable. For some time into this move, Haaland wanders into an offside position, his center back Benjamin Hubner might even think he’s safe to leave him there. The young Norwegian knows better. There are more ways the piece will swing towards him than away from him. The up-and-coming Donyel Malen could get past Haaland whether he gets the ball from his give-and-go, Kevin Vogt will feel compelled to fall back.

He does, and suddenly Haaland finds himself in the first goal area, ready to land another goal that seems much easier in execution than in scoring.

Vogt drops back to play Haaland onside as Dortmund’s number 9 pushes into the net

Wyscout/Digisport

Haaland is as good as they come as a pure scorer at the highest level. In the German league, he scores on average better than a goal per 90 minutes on 0.85 expected goals (xG). Before anyone brings up the prospect of a Bundesliga tax, one would prefer to examine his frankly ridiculous Champions League returns, an expected goal every 86 minutes and an actual goal every 64. In the past three years at the European elite level, Haaland has scored more often than Sevilla, Inter Milan or Atletico Madrid.

But then you already knew all this. The most intriguing thing about Haaland is how he could develop City outside the goal. Since his arrival in English football, Guardiola has tended to favor extreme width in his side and has only leaned further in that approach over the years. His teams have built more and more of their attacks along the flanks, avoiding the punching through the belly attack that Yaya Toure led in previous City teams. In 2017-18, his team carried the ball an average of 1,028 yards per game through the middle third of the offensive half. This season, that number has fallen by about 10 percent.

Of course City are not alone in building their attacks from the outside. Virtually every team in football does that for the simple reason that the flanks are less congested than the midfield. Perhaps Guardiola can change that. Surely next season he will have the kind of players who can pass the ball through the middle like few others. We’ve already seen the best of De Bruyne in recent weeks as a dynamic presence down the middle. The early stages of the 2-2 Premier League draw with Liverpool saw the Belgian brush pass by Fabinho and company as if they weren’t even there.

Haaland could be be even harder to stop. Opposing defenses could feel they are in their safe space when the Norwegian falls with his back to goal in midfield; that is until he turns on the afterburners. His pace and power is relentless. A player with that body shape just shouldn’t be able to move like him. It’s like watching Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant’s first flushes. You put those skills into that body!? Just as was the case with the Greek Freak in his early NBA years, you get the sense that he’s a little ways off from the final product.

You don’t have to look far, though, for moments when Haaland’s ball-carrying ball and sheer gravity through the center of the field open new avenues for his teammates. Take this assist below – one of seven he has provided in the Bundesliga this season – for Axel Witsel. Dortmund’s number 9 sinks deep into the central right channel and carries the ball up. Backtracking Maximilian Arnold knows he has two players out and that should be his focus.

Wolfsburg defenders flock to Haaland, freeing up space for overlapping runners

Wyscout/Sport 3

But when Haaland — a gazelle in the body of a lion — charges at you, how can you not find yourself a little more concerned about that than what’s going on behind your back? Arnold steps forward and that’s all Dortmund needs. A simple cross pass and Witsel is through to score.

This is perhaps the most notable change Haaland has made to Dortmund, a club at risk of becoming a graduating school for the best and brightest in Europe. He has improved significantly as a ball carrier – particularly in moving the ball into the penalty area – and as a facilitator, finishing a game that resembled a pure goalscorer when he left Red Bull Salzburg. In his first half of the season in Germany, he registered 0.11 expected assists per 90 minutes, a total that has more than doubled to 0.25 in 2021-2022, putting him in the top 30 of the Bundesliga. It is even higher than the 0.14 recorded by who occupies the center of City in the top flight this season.

The chances Haaland has created and the assists he has provided have for the most part come from places no different from those above. Sometimes he returns to defenders and shoots him around the corner. On others, he will pick out runners outside of him. You would hardly confuse him with De Bruyne or… Bernardo Silva, but that’s exactly the point; City already has the players who see the fields that no one else sees. With Haaland and De Bruyne driving through the centre, there could be more of those passes open as defenders get sucked into the field.

Ultimately, Haaland is more likely to fit seamlessly into the current system than it is to significantly change how and where City build their attacks. If nothing else, the idea of ​​him attacking through broken play in the middle requires opponents to do something they rarely do already: leave a low defense block that they try to hold onto for their lives.

But if all he’s offering in the build is just another way City can beat teams – with their hearts rather than working their way to the side – then that’s a welcome addition to Guardiola’s arsenal. Neither City nor Haaland need to change to excel, but it never hurts to have another quiver to your bow.

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