Be careful with a Haaland-style-zombie!
A few days before the Champions League final 22/23, Erling Haaland talked to journalists at Manchester City’s training ground. A brave reporter asked him about the truth, that despite breaking the record for scoring in a Premier League season with 36 goals and being the top scorer in the Champions League, he came to Istanbul with only 1 goal. in the last 7 appearances.
Haaland’s reaction at that time was very carefree, showing the player’s confident and comfortable demeanor. “You can consider it 1 goal in 7 matches…” he began in an unhappy tone. “Or,” Haaland paused for a long moment before smiling cheekily, “you could think of it as 52 goals and eight assists in 52 games. You can think of it both ways. I don’t feel stressed. On the contrary, I am very comfortable.”
It was a powerful reminder that Haaland’s thirst for goals is very different from other strikers. Because the number of matches in which the Norwegian player does not score is small, but the number of matches in which he scores 1, even 2, 3 goals is too many.
But just like in June, Haaland can point to his terrible form since the beginning of this season, scoring 8 goals in 7 Premier League matches. Should City be worried? Or is Haaland just resting a bit, before continuing his next epic scoring streak?
The last time Haaland scored was a header against Nottingham Forest. Since then, Haaland played 3 matches with different stories, but all had the same result: He could not find the opponent’s net.
In the match against Wolves, Haaland only had one shot on target and had only 15 touches of the ball. He also failed in the battle with a not so formidable opponent: Craig Dawson, a midfielder who is 33 years old this year.
The 23-year-old striker is expected to relieve his thirst for goals in the match against RB Leipzig. Especially in the last confrontation with the German team, Haaland scored 5 goals, a record in a knockout match in the Champions League.
There is a feeling that Haaland is not as sharp and cold in his second season in England as he was last season. He “only” scored 8 goals in 9 matches in the Premier League and Champions League this season, compared to 14 goals in the same period last year.
Missing Kevin De Bruyne
So what has changed? First are the players playing around Haaland. The 23-year-old striker started life at Man City with a team of experienced players behind him, including Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan.
De Bruyne assisted 13 of Haaland’s 52 goals last season, including his first goal in the opening match against West Ham after a defense-splitting pass. But the Belgian tore his hamstring in the first game this season against Burnley, leaving Haaland without a favorite playmaker.
Gundogan’s output is less than De Bruyne, but he plays an equally important role in Man City’s playing style. The departure of the German player affected the playing style of the Etihad Stadium team, and it certainly affected Haaland.
Man City also has many other injuries that change the way they play football as always. John Stones was injured from the Community Shield match, while Jack Grealish suffered a knee injury and only recently returned.
Man City is playing more directly
Man City actively recruited players in the summer to compensate for the departures of Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez. First, they brought in Mateo Kovacic, then there were last-minute deals for Jeremy Doku and Matheus Nunes.
The duo arrived in the last week of August and had very little time practicing with Haaland on the training field. Haaland is a phenomenal player, but like any other player, he needs time to understand his new teammates. He was on his way to doing just that, scoring against Forest from an assist from Nunes.
“I think it’s because they have rookies,” former Man City midfielder Owen Hargraves shared on TNT Sports after the match between Man City and RB Leipzig. “Kevin De Bruyne is not playing. Riyad Mahrez and Gundogan were not there. Doku is a rookie. Erling is therefore rehearsing his running steps, as well as timing his shots.”
Be careful with a Haaland-style-zombie
Although Haaland is not yet at his most terrifying form, he is still enough to give opponents goosebumps. Even a largely walking Haaland is a scary prospect. When asked by The Telegraph to describe his abilities, Haaland compared himself to a zombie – a walking corpse.
“I can go back and touch the ball a few times. But I’m the type of striker who just walks around, going through the motions in his own world. I basically became a zombie,” he said.
“I’ll look around. Waiting for the opportunity. And when the opportunity came, I knew I had to be ready. I still pay attention to everything, but I like to walk and read the situation.
“I will wait for the opportunity like: ‘If the ball goes there, the goal can come’. It’s a kind of feeling. When the team is playing the ball from below, I know I don’t have to get involved. I stood there and waited for the right moment to…,” as he said, Haaland immediately snapped his fingers.
Teams may have found a way to mitigate the threat of Haaland this season. But only a fool would think that Haaland is in decline. After Arsenal, other teams will still spend the full 90 minutes watching for a walking zombie on the field named Haaland.