Erling Haaland shows underrated quality that Man City have craved – Alex Brotherton
You don’t have to be a genius to work out why Manchester City fans are excited about the arrival of Erling Braut Haaland.
At the age of 21 the Norway international is already one of the most ruthless strikers in world football, having scored 86 goals in 89 appearances for Borussia Dortmund since January 2020. While City have had no problem scoring goals over the past two seasons, on their way to a fourth Premier League title it was at times clear that the only way to improve Pep Guardiola’s side would be to add an elite striker to the squad.
Last month City did just that, by triggering the £51m release clause in Haaland’s Dortmund contract. He will officially join the Blues on July 1 and will have the whole of pre-season to adapt to his new surroundings.
On Sunday evening ,excitement levels rose further when Haaland scored a brace in Norway’s 2-1 defeat of Sweden. His first was a penalty( perhaps he will end City’s penalty curse?), but the second showed a new element he will bring to City’s already brilliant attack.
His second goal in the 69th minute was rather route one: the goalkeeper hoofed the ball forward, it was flicked on and — after Sweden defender Joakim Nilsson misjudged his interception — Haaland raced onto it and lashed a shot into the bottom corner.
On closer inspection though, the role Haaland’s mere physical presence played in creating the opportunity — and forcing the error from the defender — becomes clear.
When the ball is in mid-air following the flick-on, Haaland is a good yard or two behind Nilsson. Yet Haaland’s speed allows him to instantly make up the ground, while his size and physicality clearly makes the defender unsure of what to do.
It may seem overly-simplistic to suggest that the defender was scared or intimidated by the Norwegian, but when a ruthless, physical specimen like Haaland is bearing down on you, it’s hard for defenders to stay cool and make sensible decisions.
In this situation, the Nilsson was unable to keep his composure. With Haaland eating up the ground he panicked and lunged for the ball, getting nowhere near it and allowing Haaland a clear run at goal. The 21-year-old riffled his shot into the bottom far corner to put Norway 2-0 up.
The way that Haaland strikes fear into defenders, his presence forcing moments of hesitation and indecision, is striking. While City have incredible attackers who unite to form one of the best pressing front-lines in the game, they don’t have anyone who can bully defenders and force them into errors without even touching them.
Players will tell you that football is just as much a psychological game as it is a physical one. If you’re a defender racing back towards your own goal to win the ball, the last thing you need is the thought in the back of your mind that if you don’t win the race, then the opponent will most likely score.
That’s what Haaland will bring to City — the ability to scare defenders by just being there and to make the most of mistakes with ruthless efficiency.