Like Father, Like Son
Perhaps all children of successful professionals carry a burden with their name from birth. No doubt an honor to represent the family, but an air of expectations normally follows to ensure standards are kept for the sake of family image. This is no different in the world of football. As we know it best, football is a privilege we’ve all come to enjoy, and sharing the sport with a loved one brings all the more joy. For footballers, it’s only normal for the passion to transcend through the bloodline. In recent years, we’ve seen countless professionals following the footsteps of their famous fathers, but often succumbing to unrealistic expectations the media casts. Once the hype of their breakthrough subsides, players would be tagged with the infamous ‘Son of <Insert ex-footballer>’ as their alias.
This could hardly be the truth for a certain Norwegian, who’s not only exceeded his father’s achievements at the ripe age of 21 but has also been touted as one of the best strikers in Europe. In truth, his career has given his father’s reputation an unlikely resurgence post retirement. No longer is he regarded as the guy who got his leg broken by Roy Keane, but also the ‘Father of Erling Braut Haaland’. And just like his father (Alf-Inge Haaland), Erling is now a Manchester City player for the upcoming season. This analysis will cover the Norwegian’s performances with Dortmund in the 2021/22 season, whilst examining his fit for Guardiola’s City. All figures below are based on performance per 90 minutes played, according to StatsBomb via FBref.
Role at Dortmund
Readers would most likely have heard of Haaland already. Many would class him as the world’s best forwards alongside Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema. Nevertheless, an injury-plagued season halted his development, causing City fans to sweat on his performances as the new season dawns. To further understand his performance, we should first discuss his roles under Marco Rose.
Erling Haaland’s threat towards opposition defence often means he is marked with a greater degree of supervision. Dortmund capitalizes on such a threat by having him high up the pitch to pin the opposition deep in their own half. This movement forces the entire structure of the opposition to fall back to cover the big gaps that would otherwise be exploited by Dortmund’s midfield. Subsequently, the men in yellow would build-up further up the pitch. That said, Haaland’s role in this situation is rather insignificant as it is costly, due to his lack of comfort to play within tight spaces (Albeit there’s improvements from his first season); He is ineffective in contributing to his side’s possession.
From the season just past, Haaland has accumulated only 18 touches in the attacking third, which accumulates to 12% of Dortmund’s total touches in the attacking third. Compared to the centre-forwards in Top 5 European Leagues, this places Haaland on the bottom-left quadrant – which suggests he’s been ineffective in contributing towards build-up phases for his club. What he offers however, is not what he provides on-the-ball, but off-the-ball. He relies on quick interchanges to speed up play between teammates, whilst making movements beyond defensive lines that opens up spaces to be exploited. His value therefore derives from his presence, more so than his ability to link-up with teammates on the pitch.
Perhaps he isn’t much help in the first phases of build-up, but he is definitely one of the main recipients in latter stages of the possession. As alluded earlier, Erling Haaland is a freak of nature who’s ironically blessed with electrifying pace despite a weird running form. He almost gallops instead of strides and a mere head start is all the invitation he needs to cause panic.
When compared to his peers all around Top 5 Leagues, Haaland’s got to the end of 8.5 progressive passes, while Malen receives 7.8 of them. It goes to show that the pair have been brilliant in making runs and providing their teammates an effective outlet. This is especially important when you consider Dortmund have been amongst the top teams when it comes to distributing progressive passes, with 41.9 attempted progressive passes in the past season. Hummels and Akanji are amongst the best passers from the back, which makes Haaland’s presence beyond the line all the more dangerous.
With the ball, Haaland can be a menace to deal with considering his dominating stature coupled with terrifying pace. His strong physique and height provide a strong foundation to ride off challenges, making him an agent of chaos whenever he accelerates. However, his high position means he’s not got the opportunity to run with the ball as often as he likes. He’s accumulated 3.17 attempted dribbles per 100 touches, but often gets the better of his man as he boasts a 52% dribble success rate. His threat with the ball also creates chances for Dortmund, with 1.06 shot-creating actions derived from his dribbles or simply by drawing fouls. His relatively low number of dribbles could also be due to the attention he draws from opposition defenders, often staying tight to him as he receives the ball.
So, how then will a player that primarily thrives in a midst of chaos, fit in a system emphasized on patient build-up in a possession-based setup? It is fair to say Haaland hasn’t had the best of seasons, with numerous injuries halting his development. His pace remains lightning quick and will blitz past defences easily. One quick look on his highlight reels and you will see numerous instances where he just charges forward from deep to score. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that his speed should be handled with more caution.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), he likely won’t be utilizing his speed on a regular basis with City, for the spaces granted in behind the defence will be minimal. Instead, we can expect Haaland’s involvement in attacking thirds to increase due to City’s patience build-up play, as opposed to Dortmund’s inclination to attack on the break in quick tempo. This would also suggest Haaland will have more passing options, further decreasing his burden up front. City can also be direct in their play with Ederson supplying long balls from deep. The 6’4ft striker would make a brilliant target to beat defenders in the air, winning duels to set players up or provide a point of focus.
He will likely resume his development as a deep-lying forward that plays short passes to combine with players, but his shooting remains the reason why he is regarded as one of the world’s best.
Scoring 9 goals in an U20 World Cup tournament is definitely one way to catch the attention of the mainstream media. It was the first-time casual fans would’ve heard of his name, but he made sure to build on that reputation by scoring his first hattrick in the Champions League on his competition debut. Perhaps indicative of the trajectory Haaland was on at the age of 19. Today, he is the youngest goal scorer to reach 20 Champions League goals. Goals galore; if there’s anything this guy knows, it’s scoring goals.
Haaland accumulated 3.5 shots and achieved 0.6 non-penalty xG per90. That would suggest he would almost certainly score in every other game. To put it into context, Cristiano Ronaldo has accumulated 0.52 non-penalty xG per90. With the many shots taken, he’s also proven to overperform on his shooting performance with a positive rate of non-penalty goals – non-penalty xG, which essentially suggest he’s been scoring more goals than he is expected to, based on the location of shots he takes, which further signifies his potency in front of goal.
If there’s anything Manchester City lacked in the squad, it’s the presence of a consistent box threat and more importantly, goalscorer. For the past season, City have been deploying false 9s as strikers to drag players out of position and contribute towards the build-up but have been ineffective at getting on the end of passes from the chances they create. Haaland’s constant movement makes him difficult to pin down, always manufacturing room for shots. For City, his mobility will come under great use, especially when City’s wingers have the capability of beating their men from wide areas to deliver crosses in.
Haaland’s tactical understanding will come under great scrutiny from Pep Guardiola in the following months, but not even he can doubt the Norwegian’s goal scoring prowess. Haaland will offer City a greater variety to their system, in which he provides the dynamism needed to hopefully propel them towards their first Champions League.
When interviewed by the Norwegian FA in the back of his 9-goal exploits in the expense of Honduras, this was his reply:
“It annoys me a little bit that I didn’t score with my last kick of the game. I’ll have to sit down and think a little bit about it and maybe I’ll work out what happened,”
The statement can be mistaken for arrogance, but this is perhaps a more accurate telling of the ambitions 19-year-old Erling Haaland had. Coupled with the humility to understand his weaknesses in his never-ending search for improvements. And if it’s improvement he seeks, then he will receive it in abundance in Pep’s school of Champions.
Written by an Andy verified content writer