FootballPremier League

Ryan Baldi: “Signing Haaland can re-establish daylight between City & Liverpool”

April 20, 2022

AFTER failing in their protracted pursuit of Harry Kane last summer, it appears Manchester City are moving quickly and early to get a star striker through the door ahead of next season, and this time one whose youth and pedigree could see them reassert themselves as English football’s dominant force for a decade or more.

The latest reports suggest City have reached an agreement with Erling Haaland over a deal that will earn the Norwegian marksman an eye-watering £500,000 a week in the increasingly likely eventuality that he moves to the Etihad from Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season.

Still only 21 years old, the son of former City and Leeds midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland has already plundered over 150 senior club goals in his nascent career and ever since his move to Red Bull Salzburg in January 2020, he has averaged close to a goal a game in all competitions. On the international stage, he has scored 15 goals from just 17 caps. He was named the 2020 Golden Boy and he is the reigning Bundesliga Player of the Year.

And should City finalise his move to Manchester, they will do so for the relative bargain price of £62 million, owing to a release clause in Haaland’s Dortmund contract that can be triggered this summer.

When quizzed this week about the latest developments in City’s efforts to sign Haaland, Pep Guardiola remained tight-lipped. “I have no answer to your question,” he said. “I have no concern about what will happen in this club next season. We are playing with good strikers and for many years I never talk about transfers, especially when we are playing for this season.”

But beneath the poker-face veneer, Guardiola must be giddy at the prospect of adding such a high-level goal-getter to his already star-studded squad.

There are few holes in Guardiola’s side at present. They are engaged with Liverpool in the tightest of title battles while pushing to add a first-ever Champions League triumph to their trophy haul. But if there is one glaring area for improvement, it is in City’s lack of a recognised No.9 at the point of their potent attack since club legend Sergio Aguero’s departure for Barcelona last year.

And it is clearly as issue they have been keen to resolve, evidenced by their move for Kane. Even without a top-class striker amid their ranks, City have hardly struggled for goals. They are the Premier League’s second-highest scorers this season with, at the time of writing, 72 goals, bettered only by Liverpool’s 83. They have failed to score in only four of their 30 league games.

But their average of 2.32 goals per game this term falls short of their best output under Guardiola. It was lower still last season, when an ageing, injury-troubled Aguero being limited to just seven league starts and four goals highlighted City’s need for refreshment at the centre-forward position as they averaged just 2.18 goals per game.

The only time their goals-per-game average has been lower under Guardiola was in the Catalan tactician’s first season in England, when City finished third in the table while scoring 2.1 times per match.

In the three following campaigns, their average never dropped below 2.5 goals per game, peaking at 2.79 in their 100-point title win of 2017-18, when Aguero’s return of 21 goals earned him a place in the Premier League’s Team of the Year for the first time. So far this season, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is their top league scorer, with just 11 goals. Phil Foden, a natural midfielder, and the hard-working, low-scoring Gabriel Jesus have most often lead City’s frontline.

This season, City own the Premier League’s meanest defence, with just 20 goals conceded through 30 fixtures. They are on course to equal their best defensive record since Guardiola took change. In Ederson, they have one of the world’s best goalkeepers who is a perfect stylistic fit for their system. They have arguably Europe’s most formidable central defensive pairing in Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte. They have remedied the long-standing issue of how to replace Fernandinho at the base of midfield, with Rodri’s consistency a pillar of their title push. And they have creativity in abundance, from full-back Joao Cancelo to the usual suspects of De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Foden and Raheem Sterling.

Although there will likely be a period of adaptation upon Haaland’s expected arrival, the presence of such a gifted, powerful and driven goal-scorer would address the only remaining area of weakness in Guardiola’s squad.

City’s attack is anything but blunt. But if sharpened by the addition of Haaland next season, it could re-establish the daylight between themselves and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.