At one stage, the signing looked terrifying for the rest of the league. Manchester City Has won four of the last five Premier League titles. It has been the top scorer in the Premier League in each of those five seasons. And that aside, it earned a powerful and prolific 22-year-old, Erling Haaland, widely recognized as the most promising youth hub in Europe, for a bargain price of $60 million. How could it not achieve even greater goals, even greater success?
The answer, perhaps, came in Community Shield on Saturday. Haaland is not a classic Pep Guardiola-style forward. It is as if he was made alive in a tower during a storm at midnight. He gets defenders out of the way, at times simplifies the game brilliantly, hitting opponents and retorting shots. That may give City the edge it previously lacked in the biggest European Games. But equally there is a risk that it disrupts a precision-based system that has brought so much success.
Haaland’s hero was always Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an equally talented and physically impressive striker. Guardiola signed him for Barcelona in 2009, but the move broke down in acrimony, with the Sweden international describing the rest of Barcelona’s squad as “obedient little schoolboys”. And there is something in that. The Juego de position, backed by Guardiola, requires players to assimilate the system, to suppress their egos.
Ibrahimovic could never do that; Maybe Haaland will, but maybe not. Posts on social media last week showed him buying Percy Pigs (a fruit-flavored candy) from Marks & Spencer, may be like innocent children, or frankly mischievous, liberty against all checks. A claim of Citi puts through its players. Jack Grealish was brought in last summer for more than double Haaland’s buyout clause ($139 million), seemingly with the same aim of adding an element of chaos to an attack that, although spectacular, perhaps of unpredictability. A dash can benefit.
But it’s not just about personality. There is a clear stylistic disconnect. Haland is not a subtle player. He doesn’t fall deep or stretch wide or make room for others. that friction may prove to be constructive, but it Is a risk. And very early signs have not been positive. City were well beaten by Liverpool in the Community Shield, and Haaland was a notably different individual. Time and again he scored runs that demanded that kind of opening pass with his insistence on keeping City’s possession, therefore rarely playing.
In the entire 90 minutes and injury time, he touched the ball only 16 times. The positive side of this is that those 16 sixes included three good chances, two of which he missed out on disappointingly. The second, generated after overtaking Andrew Robertson, was a useful save from Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian. And it was a Holland that didn’t quite fit. In this sense, he made the city very non-city-like. While earlier criticism was that the biggest games against the best opponents were often played well without creating clear chances, on Saturday it was far from its best through midfield but looked dangerous nonetheless.
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The only other major new signing-forward Julian Alvarez was a winter signing for about $18 million, although he came from River Plate this summer – Calvin Phillips. He is accustomed to playing in the hard-pressed team at Leeds, and his passing range should be an asset. That he is capable of fast forward balls, again considering a change in Guardiola style, adding a more direct element to the familiar patient buildup. It can work. It may be what City needs to eventually win the Champions League, but by definition, any rebuild is an uncertain proposition.
At the same time, City have fielded Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Alexander Zinchenko among other “Big Six” Premier League clubs. It feels like a risk again. Not that all three have been credible performers, but this season they will be looking to perform reliably against direct rivals. Meanwhile, Fernandinho has returned to Brazil.
Brighton then trailed Mark Cucurella, who seems unlikely as City are reportedly unwilling to meet Siegel’s demand for fees. To be honest, it sounds weird. This is Manchester City, a club of essentially unlimited money. What is behind the sudden budget cuts and cost conscious approach? This may not foreshadow anything, but equally the City team suddenly looks a little thin, especially with Aymeric Laporte injured to start the season.
Nevertheless, Man City remains the preseason favorite and the new signing may take it to a whole new level in the coming months. But reshaping the team is a risk and nothing is certain.
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