CHRIS SUTTON: Two assists and brilliant build-up play in the Manchester derby show Erling Haaland’s all-round game has come on leaps and bounds under Pep Guardiola… he is the striker who can do EVERYTHING
- Man City star Erling Haaland seems to be made of all the best strikers attributes
- Pep Guardiola is improving the Norwegian’s all round game making him better
- Haaland has scored 14 goals in his first eight Premier League games for City
I like the idea of Erling Haaland being made in a laboratory by some mad scientist who fancied piecing together the perfect striker, so let’s give it a go.
What parts of other players would you say he gave him? The left foot of Ferenc Puskas? The power of Cristiano Ronaldo? The pace of Gareth Bale? The improvisation of Zlatan Ibrahimovic? The mental strength of Alan Shearer? That scientist seems to have thrown in the physique of Superman and instinct of Spider-Man for the hell of it, too.
And now Pep Guardiola, his manager at Manchester City, is giving him a better brain. Against Manchester United, Haaland had 35 touches of the ball — more than he has managed in any other match this season. He was linking up with Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, creating chances and assisting goals. We know he is the goalscorer, first and foremost. The finisher, providing the end product for all that exquisite play.
Chris Sutton (pictured) says that Erling Haaland is close to being the perfect striker at City
But Sunday’s 6-3 win over United showed he can be so much more. The 22-year-old Norwegian arrived at City from Borussia Dortmund knowing there were three areas in which he could improve.
One was his right foot — and we saw against Wolves how the defenders tried to block his left, so he scored with his right from outside the box instead.
Another was his heading — and there was no stopping the 6ft 4in giant from getting to that corner against United.
Erling Haaland is having his all round game improved since moving to Manchester City
Pep Guardiola has managed to turn Haaland in to the perfect striker to link up the play
The third area was his build-up play, and that is the one part of his game over which Guardiola can have the greatest influence. When Haaland had only eight touches against Bournemouth in August, Guardiola defended his player, saying he was swallowed up by a back five and a midfield two and that he would get better.
We saw evidence of his evolution against United and the understanding he is gaining with his new team-mates. His back-to-goal work was impressive, finding pockets of space to receive the ball and playing one-twos, with his touch map (see right) showing he was not only hanging around the penalty box waiting on others to serve him. It is unselfish work, worth admiring.
Boss Pep Guardiola is getting more out of Haaland and he can get even better if it continues
I mentioned Shearer’s mental strength at the start of this column because I saw that first-hand when we formed the SAS at Blackburn. When he had a bad game — rare though it was — he did not let it dent his confidence. He still couldn’t wait for his next chance to go out there and score and win the game. It was the same with Henrik Larsson at Celtic. It is a special trait, and Haaland strikes me as the same sort.
Remember the Community Shield? How Haaland missed that glorious chance to score from six yards against Liverpool? He didn’t let that weigh him down. Instead, he backed himself and he has gone from strength to strength in front of goal in England.
Even in his interviews, he is so cool, as if he doesn’t feel the weight of expectation on his shoulders. It is frightening, really. There are no glaring weaknesses to his game. Guardiola is getting more out of Haaland than ever — and this is only the beginning.