Erling Haaland to Man City: Why the striker’s role in Pep Guardiola’s team suits the Norwegian’s temperament and skills

27 Jun 2022 | 08:07 | Football

Being Manchester City’s centre-forward should be the easiest role in football. This is the Premier League team with the most possessions, the most touches in the box and the most goals this season. Just stand in front and drop the ball into the net.

However, things are not that simple. In fact, none of the senior players in City’s current squad seem to want the role. Gabriel Jesus prefers to be where he can find space. Jack Grealish’s least convincing performance came in the middle.

Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling were better at times but still looked happier on the wing, as illustrated by the fact that Guardiola even pressed Bernardo Silva . He did it even though he knew it wasn’t for the Portuguese.

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Kaveh Solhekol explains why Erling Haaland’s move to Manchester City makes sense

“He likes to get inside, but coming from the outside, he’s struggling a little bit, but we have to understand that. When the opponents are sitting so deep and everyone is closing the gap on the inside, for the players who play there come It’s not easy to say.”

For the city, space is usually elsewhere. In particular, they can be found deeper, in the half where Joao Cancelo and Kevin De Bruyne did this damage. Sterling loves this channel. Ilkay Gundogan likes to run late in the box.

As a result, the forward’s role in Guardiola’s squad can sometimes feel like a bait, a game waiting for the midfielder. As with the team’s goalie Ederson, focus is a crucial trait. This is where patience is everything.

Even Sergio Aguero found this aspect of the job difficult to accept. He is said to have complained about teammates not passing the ball to him. Before Guardiola’s arrival, the average number of touches per 90 minutes was more than 50, but in subsequent seasons, the number of touches dropped to below 40.

It takes a mental shift to deal with the situation, as it puts the focus directly on the finish of the players, impressing them. Aguero can do that. Few Premier League players have outperformed their expected goals since records began.

Jesus, however, finds himself at the other end of the scale – with more expected goals than anyone else since his debut. This helps explain why he became frustrated when he couldn’t keep his feet on the ground and wanted to contribute in other ways.

Erling Harland’s temperament and finishing ability make the character more at ease. His average of 36.5 touches per 90 minutes in the Champions League is lower than other elite strikers. Watching the ball loop around him is unlikely to be a problem.

His job will indeed change. He scored on Dortmund’s counter-attack, which is unlikely at Manchester City. Only six Premier League teams have scored fewer goals in the fast break this season. Manchester City have created a lower percentage of chances this way than any other top team.

But it would be wrong to think that Haaland relies on the space behind him to thrive. Despite his amazing physique, he’s not a player whose physicality dictates his game. The growth spurt came in late. His technique is good. He can do it in tight areas.

The fact that he has made nine one-touch finishes in his first eight games for Dortmund suggests he just needs a little time. He will receive quality service at Manchester City, ideal for a player who doesn’t mind how many touches he has as long as it’s his last touch.

Erling Haaland's Champions League career goals by pitch position
Erling Haaland’s Champions League career goals by pitch position

Of course, it’s a dangerous idea to think that getting a good finisher will automatically make City better than before. Football is smoother than that. Perhaps adding a more traditional striker means losing something else in playmaking.

That’s part of the reason why Aguero is starting to find himself on the perimeter, as Guardiola continues to seek full possession – a quest undoubtedly aided by the selection of what is essentially an extra midfielder in attack.

But at Haaland they have added a world-class striker who is young enough to adapt and assimilate but also enough to bring something different. Most importantly, he wants to play forward. Maybe not the easiest role in football, but certainly the easiest decision to get him in.

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