What happens when arguably the best team in the world signs arguably the best player in the world in the one position where they’re lacking? Manchester City, who just wrapped up a fifth Premier League title in four seasons despite having just one senior striker in the first-team squad, have also secured the services of Norwegian goal machine Erling Haaland. Aged just 21, the Leeds-born forward has scored 155 goals in 200 club appearances plus another 15 in his 17 caps for Norway. The mere thought of what he could achieve with a Guardiola side arranged behind him is fairly terrifying.
Indeed, despite an impressively consistent second half to the season just ended, Liverpool couldn’t catch the Citizens without Haaland. Given that his stats and physical attributes will have bettors flocking to visit Oddsninja.com to get their money on Haaland for the league’s top scorer, what must Jurgen Klopp be thinking as he plans how to unseat the reigning champions? Actually, that’s something we’ll be touching on as we look at the potential repercussions of the £50million+ transfer of the summer, so let’s read on…
It might not be about the Premier League
It’s been said in the past that to be in Premier League contention, you need at least one striker who’ll fetch you 20 goals a season. This has been proven solidly wrong: City’s top marksman in the competition, Kevin de Bruyne, isn’t even a striker. Their most productive centre-forward was Gabriel Jesus, with eight, and he might be leaving. So it’s not that they need Haaland’s goals to retain their title.
What it might affect is their performance in European competition. So many Premier League titles, so many expensively-acquired and heavily-garlanded players, and City have yet to even reach a final in, let alone win, the Champions League. Given that Klopp is targeting his second such crown for Liverpool, Guardiola must be looking wistfully on as the Reds face his semi-final conquerors, Real Madrid, in this weekend’s showpiece event.
Will Haaland “fit in”?
Manchester City under Guardiola have elevated soccer to, if not an art form, then at least some kind of conceptual statement. At their best, they’re a blur of quick passes and surreal changes of pace. Erling Haaland is 6’4 of muscle and controlled aggression. How will he work in a Guardiola side?
The answer is “probably very well, and don’t be so shallow”. Haaland fired four goals in one game for Molde when he was 17. At Red Bull Salzburg, he hit 29 in 27 games before Dortmund stepped in to make sure someone else didn’t sign him. He then went on to hit the net 86 times in 89 games for them. None of these sides – well, definitely not the latter two – are simplistic route-one teams.
Haaland has exceptional touch and great vision. His size augments those characteristics; it doesn’t eclipse them. He’s a freakishly good striker because he can beat defenders in a foot race, a wrestling bout and a chess match, sometimes all at once. He’ll fit in fine.
So in summary, Manchester City probably didn’t need Haaland, but they got him anyway, and he’s been brilliant for teams who couldn’t afford the best creators in the business, so he’ll probably be even more petrifying at the Etihad. Do you sense a “but”? Good. Here it is.
He’s just one player, and teams can still only have eleven men on the pitch at the one time. Someone will miss out for Haaland to play (probably Gabriel Jesus) and so it’s not a case of simply adding him to what’s already there. City play the game a certain way and, as West Ham and Aston Villa showed in consecutive weeks, they can be “got at” by other teams. They will be vulnerable until someone invents infallible cyborg footballers – and even then, Newcastle will probably sign those.