Manchester City Premier League 2022-23 season preview, bold predictions: All eyes on Erling Haaland
Mon, Aug 1, 2022
Soccer News (AP)
He may not have been the most expensive addition of the summer transfer window, nor did he arrive with the most laden of trophy cabinets, but there is no doubting the most awe-inspiring of deals so far. The best team in England just acquired world football's breakout star of the last few years, the outstanding young striker not named Kylian Mbappe. and should be a match made in heaven.
All eyes on Erling Haaland
It probably will be, if only due to the sheer weight of goals he could add to a City team that were hardly short on them in the first place. The numbers are gaudy in the extreme. Haaland scored 115 times in 116 games for Red Bull Salzburg and Borussia Dortmund. In the Champions League he scores a goal every 63.6 minutes. He has played 19 games in Europe's premier club competition and is one goal away from reaching its top 50 all time scorers. He has already matched or bettered the return of some of his contemporaries in Europe's striking elite. , Romelu Lukaku and Paulo Dybala all trail a player who only turned 22 a few weeks ago.
He may just be on one of the great hot streaks at the start of his career. The very best and only the very best of strikers can be relied upon to regularly outperform their expected goals (xG) to some extent but not to the level Haaland has. In the Bundesliga and Champions League he has scored 74 non-penalty goals. The xG value of all the non-penalty shots he has taken is 57.76. There is some level of overperformance then there is a return 28% better than the average finisher. That is well beyond Lionel Messi levels. That degree of overperformance won't last, though one might suggest that if a player is putting up 0.76 non-penalty xG per 90 minutes a regression towards the mean may not be all that concerning.
While Haaland didn't score against in the Community Shield, despite getting three shots worth an xG value of 1.04 and creating two chances for his teammates, his first appearance in a City shirt against Bayern Munich suggested that the scoring form will hold up quite nicely going into the new season. It took him just 11 minutes to open his account and he did so in the sort of fashion to delight his new manager Pep Guardiola. slipped a pass down to the byline, picked the pass and there was Haaland sliding in to provide the finishing touch.
It was almost the archetypal City goal, the only variation from tradition being that it had not been a lengthy period of possession play down the flank that unlocked the Bayern Munich defense and freed Grealish to get to the byline for the cutback. No team created more chances or scored more goals from cutbacks in last season's Premier League than Guardiola's. Now they have another player to feast on them.
This is a team who fetishize the close range shots in line with the goal more than anyone else. Compare their shot heatmap from the 2021-22 season with Haaland's over the last three seasons. Haaland's sweet spot is City's and vice versa. "These type of balls in front of the keeper, always he's there," as Guardiola put it after his new signing's first start.
The only notable high volume difference (naturally the collated shots of 20-plus City players over a whole season will add a few patches outside the penalty area) between the two is that patch of heat on the left corner of the box, something of a sweet spot for Haaland. He seems to relish a run that drags him from the right channel across one center back and in behind the other. Get him through on goal and he can either hammer a shot high past the goalkeeper at his near post or fire across him with that howitzer of a left boot.
A prime example of this came early in Haaland's Dortmund career, the second of four he scored in a 5-2 win over Hertha Berlin in November 2020. The moment when he senses a fault in the defensive line -- Dedryck Boyata has allowed himself to slip five yards in front of the rest of his defense -- he explodes, accelerating at a speed that should be beyond those with such a sizeable frame. Once Julian Brandt's ball is on target the outcome is inevitable.
On This Day one year ago Erling Haaland scored ????????goals vs Hertha Berlin in a 2-5 win . #BVB pic.twitter.com/HiHFSGLU38- BVB Express (@BVBExpress) November 21, 2021
A physical presence in the box
Finding space in behind defensive lines will be all the harder in City colors. Yes they have the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and who can slip balls into the most precise of landing spots, but they simply might not exist as defenses drop ever deeper in fear of the space. In that case City have a 6ft 5in center forward who can win headers in a way they have not consistently done under Guardiola. Over the last three years they have won 44.8 percent of aerial duels in the penalty area, 17th of 24 teams, although that is counterbalanced to some extent by the 19 goals they have scored from open play headers. When you get the ball into the box as often as they do, your players will get more than a few headed goals eventually.
Haaland should provide them with more of that, though there is a degree of projection in there. For a player of his size he does not score a huge number of headed goals -- the now departed for has more than the Norwegian's five over the last three seasons of league play -- nor does he compete in a huge number of aerial duels, though according to fbref, the 57.6 percent that he has won over the last 365 days puts him in the 97th percentile. It is an option that Guardiola intimated he will consider. Reflecting on the friendly win over Bayern he spoke of how City now have an "alternative to put the ball to him". Haaland only played 40 minutes at Lambeau Field and received just five passes, only one from was the sort of lofted delivery that Guardiola was discussing. Had it had the accuracy of an Aaron Rodgers then the Norwegian looked like he might be in prime position to test Manuel Neuer. The dynamic was also on display against Liverpool where Haaland's 16 touches were the fewest of any outfield player, but despite not finding the net they were virtually all dangerous.
Famously in his time at Bayern Guardiola used defensive midfielder Javi Martinez as a target man center forward, flying over Borussia Dortmund's press with the sort of long balls that would have earned more admiring glances from Charles Reep than the coaches who trained Guardiola at La Masia. Now his side can flip in a moment between footballing identities: the possession hungry game that City have made their own can suddenly become Sturm und Drang-ball in a moment.
So far so good then, an elite goal scorer who fits into City's style of play, while at 22 being well placed to add new wrinkles to his game. But, of course, similar predictions of bountiful goals were made last year when the much older Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Old Trafford. had scored 73 in the 2020-21 Premier League. With Ronaldo in the side they scored 56. They went from an attack where the parts fit together relatively favorably to one with a static presence at the top of the pitch who was not all that involved in winning the ball back or getting it to the final third. When it did get to him he would take a boat load of the shots, scoring 18 top flight goals himself, but claiming who knows how many from the Marcus Rashfords and Jadon Sanchos of the world.
To an extent the same will be true at City. They are not simply going to add another goal a game because they're plugging a striker who scores that frequently into a position that was often filled by an inside forward. Guardiola's players were already exploring the outer limits of how dominant a team can be, indeed it may be that that stranglehold on opponents ends up somewhat loosened if City ultimately end up sacrificing a more technical player masquerading as a center forward for the real deal.
Will the rest of Haaland's game live up to Guardiola's expectations?
Meanwhile, Haaland will need to adapt. A year before he made the move to England, City were pursuing Harry Kane and were said to have doubts as to whether the Norwegian could do all the other things they need. He can put the ball in the net, undoubtedly, but as a link man they seemed to favor the older model at . Certainly that is the growth area for Haaland, who does have a decent repertoire of assists and shot creating actions. Doubtless, with Dortmund the sheer gravity of this hulking center forward warped defenses to make space for others, and when the through ball was relatively simple, as in the below assist for Axel Witsel, the youngster could be relied on to play the pass.
Haaland can be an outlet for build up, and received a sizeable number of progressive passes with Dortmund, he just did not give quite so many. This makes sense in the more helter-skelter Bundesliga, when teams are flying forward and backward at great pace the ball can fizz around between the midfielders, full backs and wingers before a player like Haaland emerges on the scene to apply a thunderous finishing thump. At City things have to be more measured when there is such a disparity between one team and the other. Against massed defenses, Haaland will need to be able to drop deep, dragging center backs with him, make the right first time flick and go.
Build up is not the only spot in his game where there is room for improvement. At Dortmund, Haaland was a relatively infrequent presser, averaging 12.81 pressures per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga, according to fbref. This is not small fry for a coach like Guardiola, one who spent much of his early time at City demoting club icon Sergio Aguero because he was so unhappy with his off ball work. Meanwhile he seemed utterly enamored with Gabriel Jesus -- who he would go on to label the best pressing striker in the world -- and it took an awful lot of hard graft for Aguero to eventually win his place back.
The same will be expected from Haaland. Those 40 minutes did at least offer an indication that he gets it. Comparing the intensity with which he was closing down opponents in competitive Bundesliga games at the back end of last season with how he got after Bayern players in a friendly was striking. He was covering ground with remorseless intensity, forcing nervy clearances from even the unflappable Manuel Neuer in goal. Four minutes in and the Bayern goalkeeper is slipping to the floor as Haaland looms large over him. Leroy Sane receives the ball under pressure from and has precious few options as Joao Cancelo moves up to press Alphonso Davies and closes off the other passing option. Ultimately one could argue that Haaland's willingness to chase the goalkeeper has earned City a throw in right in Bayern's defensive third.
By the time the 40th minute rolled around Neuer must have been delighted to see the back of Haaland, who forced another loose clearance midway through the first half. In the 18th minute City's No.9 took it upon himself to chase a Bayern free kick right across midfield with almost puppyish enthusiasm, if that puppy were just scaled up to Cerberus proportions. Again he forced Bayern into the turnover, Dayot Upamecano concluding he would be infinitely happier if the ball were far away from him even if that meant punting it out for a throw.
This might be an even more encouraging sign for City than Haaland swiftly displaying his finishing prowess with his new club. Traditional strikers have not always been the easiest of fits in Guardiola's teams. Aguero was not alone in having to win round his new manager, indeed he and Robert Lewandowski might have been in the minority of players who actually did so. Samuel Eto'o, Mario Mandzukic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all found themselves unable to be the players their manager wanted them to be. Haaland would naturally have been different -- of those above all bar Ibrahimovic were players inherited by Guardiola -- but it was easy to predict a few early frissons of tension as years of elegantly constructed Pepball came clashing into the Colossus of Rogaland. Perhaps those won't transpire if, on day one, he is showing such commitment to the less glamorous aspects of life as City's line leader.
Premier League defenders beware: this could be a very trying season for you.
Manchester City bold predictions
- Premier League finish: 1st
- Top scorer: Erling Haaland
- Player of the season: Joao Cancelo
- Something unexpected: City win the Champions League in convincing style with just one wobble. Two tops...