Pep Guardiola has challenged conventional football wisdom this season. Despite calls from all angles for Manchester City to sign a new striker, he pushed on without signing an alternative to Harry Kane last summer.
Since then, City have accumulated more points in England than any other team, and they have lost just six times from a possible 41 matches, scoring a total of 107 goals in all competitions. Guardiola’s strikerless system has proved to be incredibly effective at securing positive results, and it illustrates a way of playing that places less of an emphasis on a fixed focal point at the business end of the field.
However, despite their form, City have continued their search for a striker, and Erling Haaland is at the top of their shortlist. The Etihad club are rumored to be competing with Real Madrid (and others) for his signature di lui.
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The Norwegian striker is undeniably elite, and he’s still just 21, which suggests that goals are almost guaranteed for the next decade and beyond for the club who manages to sign him.
The overwhelming question relates to how Guardiola would adjust to accommodate a new striker. Signing a dominant player such as Haaland would almost force him to make modifications to his system di lui. Thankfully for City, Guardiola appreciates the varying needs of different strikers.
Speaking in the past, he said: “The tactic is for the qualities of the players. If you have strikers like Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, you have to make crosses because they are so strong in the box.”
He continued: “For Sergio Aguero, we have to find other solutions. The way we finish the attack depends on the qualities of the players.”
Upon reflection of Haaland’s game, Guardiola would be spoiled for choice as to how to finish moves due to his remarkable skill set.
The Borussia Dortmund striker is 6ft 3ins, which naturally suggests that he’d benefit from crosses into the box. He’s strong, physical, tall and appears suited to scoring with his head.
On the other hand, he’s incredibly fast despite his size. Haaland is a nightmare for opposing defenders when he’s fed with through-balls in behind, as he sweeps them up quicker than most of his peers and then usually finds the net.
Haaland’s movement is also shrewd enough for him to score tap-ins close to goal. In fact, 15 of his 56 goals di lui in the Bundesliga have been scored inside the six-yard area – and just two of them have been scored from outside the penalty box.
He’s not particularly inclined to drop deep and contribute in possession like Kane or some of the creative types at City but when it comes to concluding attacks, Haaland is multidimensional. He can get on the end of low and high crosses. He can lead counter-attacks. He can threaten in behind. He can act as a poacher who emerges in the right places at the right time.
Manchester City have started their campaign strongly, sitting at the Premier League summit and easily qualifiying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
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Due to the dominance of possession City typically enjoy at the Etihad, Haaland’s opportunities on the break would be unlikely to materialize very often but whenever they did, he’d be a serious danger. He would be particularly useful against top opponents who are willing to press City, as he’d offer a means of countering.
City currently place top across Europe’s top five leagues for passes into the box per match, and they place second for both crosses per match and through balls per match.
So while Guardiola would have to make some subtle adjustments once adding a player who is less possession-orientated into his team, it’s clear City already attack in a manner that would allow Haaland to shine.
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