Why Erling Haaland has made sensational start at Man City and how genius Pep Guardiola made it happen | The Sun

ERLING HAALAND has been a goal machine during his amazing career but there were fears about how he might fit in at Man City.

The Norwegian striker moved to City from Borussia Dortmund in the summer with a massive reputation.

But how would the remarkable striker play under Pep Guardiola?

Throughout his career as a coach, Guardiola has implemented a very specific style of play with an emphasis on possession and movement designed to pull opposition defences out of position and then attack aggressively into that space.

Big strikers like Haaland, 22, have not really been part of his thinking – for instance, he failed to make it work with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona.

Haaland is a striker who likes to play on a high line where he will position himself on the shoulder of the defender and look to take advantage of any spaces in behind the defensive line – or so we believed.

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The Norwegian international forward already has 13 goals in all competitions including two hat-tricks and has a ridiculous goals-to-actual-touches rate.

This is how Guardiola managed to get Haaland working within their system so quickly.

How did City attack last season?

The decision to sign a striker in the mould of Haaland did not actually come out of the blue from Manchester City.

Prior to the start of the 21/22 season, the biggest transfer target for City was the Spurs and England captain Harry Kane.

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So far, Erling Haaland and Pep Guardiola is the perfect fitCredit: Getty
Last season, against Wolves, City are in the attacking phase and they have Foden, Sterling and Bernardo Silva all positioned centrally. The key thing for City is that they were so fluid and flexible in the attack so there was rarely one fixed striker

This suggests that even then there was a desire from City to move to a more structured attacking style.

As we know, Kane stayed at Spurs and City won the Premier League without playing with a recognised striker.

Instead, we saw the likes of Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus all play at some point as the “striker” in Guardiola’s preferred 4-3-3 system.

City were still extremely effective in attack across the 21/22 season and a large part of what made them so dangerous was the fact that they didn’t play with a single striker as the focal point.

Instead, players would constantly be rotating in and out of positions around the final third.

This meant that opposition central defenders struggled to find who they should be marking at any point.

And as Rio Ferdinand will keep telling you, defenders like to feel who they are marking.

As players moved in and out of position in this manner, City still maintained the rest of the attacking principles that we came to expect from a Guardiola-coached side.

City would overload one side of the pitch before switching into an isolation for a wide player against the opposition fullback and there would be constant runs from deeper positions looking to break the line and get beyond the opposition defensive line.

The key point is that City were able to effectively break teams down by ensuring that the opposition never really knew who was playing where.

The success last season then, despite the previous interest in Kane, still left some people questioning why City were so intent on adding Haaland to their team in the summer.

Guaranteed goals? Maybe. A bargain price? Possibly. Making sure nobody else got him? Almost certainly – with many added benefits.

The key question then is – how have City changed in terms of their attack since bringing in Haaland?

Well, the answer is that they haven’t.

Can Haaland play in a possession style?

In the past, Guardiola has actually played with a striker with the same frame and presence as Haaland – his Barcelona side signed the talismanic Swedish international Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

That signing ended in disaster as the Swede struggled to come to terms with the fact that everything at Barcelona went through Lionel Messi.

Zlatan bows to nobody, even the greatest player in the world.

Ibrahimovic definitely had the technical base to play in a possession style.

There have been doubts about whether Haaland is technically good enough to play for Pep.

The Norwegian is a striker who thrives in moments of chaos and in transitions where his power and pace can really shine.

He has never really looked like a striker who will come off and link the play in deeper areas.

This is still the case now. There have been some examples of Haaland coming off the line and linking play in the final third – but he tends to do so in sharp bursts before then making aggressive runs back to the highest line.

Haaland very much wants to play as high as he can as he positions himself hard against the opposition defender.

He wants to make runs beyond the defensive line wherever possible and his power and acceleration make him incredibly dangerous when doing so.

Haaland’s profile in this sense has actually added an extra dimension to the City attack.

Whereas before, and last season in particular, opposition teams would have to account for runs from deep those runs, through Haaland, are coming much earlier in the attack from City.

This essentially means that opposition central defenders are being forced deeper earlier in the attack and space is being created that City’s central midfielders and wide attackers can take advantage of. 

This extra space that Haaland creates just by being on the pitch essentially adds another layer of depth and control to the City system.

The fullbacks, and especially Joao Cancelo, can come inside and occupy the central spaces along with the midfielders.

This means that even when the first wave of attack is defended by the opposition, City are in position to then regain control quickly.

Are City crossing more with Haaland?

One of the assumptions made when Man City announced the signing of Haaland was that they would have to find a way to feed the Norwegian striker with crosses into the area to get the most of his strengths.

In truth, however, City are crossing just as much this season as they did last season – it’s just that they have always crossed the ball a lot.

The number of crosses that City make is always going to be relatively high given the fact that they are so possession dominant.

They see more of the ball in the final third than any other side in the Premier League and as such, they will naturally make more crosses.

In Haaland though, City have signed a striker who is about so much more than power in the area.

His movement profile and ability to position himself in areas to gain an advantage over defenders is second to none.

There have been multiple situations so far this season in which Haaland has made small movements in the area anticipating the cross before adjusting his positioning and movement once or twice more when the cross is not made. 

The Norwegian does not just follow the traditional striker's mantra of making two runs – one for the defender and one for the ball – and instead he is in near constant motion in the penalty area.

Haaland is as near to impossible to effectively mark in the area as we have seen for some time.

His movement and positional understanding is combined with size and strength as well as outstanding balance and agility.

This means that when the ball is played into the area he is capable of scoring from a variety of positions and angles.

He is quite simply a nightmare for defensive players.

So, have City changed to play to Haaland’s strengths?

In a word, no. He has added another level to City’s game as opposition defenders have to worry about him as much as all the other movement from the fluid Pep approach.

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It is very much a slight evolution – not revolution – and opponents who struggled to stop Haaland before when he had lesser quality feeding him will continue to struggle even more now.

Will he break every goalscoring record known to man?

Who knows – but right now, it is a frightening prospect.

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