European Football

The Missing Piece?: On Erling Håland’s Move to Manchester City

And now we will witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station…

Well, the inevitable has happened. Erling Håland has chosen his next team, and it is the one we all expected it to be this whole time.

Erling Håland will sign for Manchester City after agreeing to personal terms with the club and City activating the around €60 million release clause on the Norwegian’s Borussia Dortmund contract. After a staggering 86 goals and 23 assists in 89 games, Håland bids farewell to Germany and joins the club his dad famously played for. It stays within the family, and Håland has now arrived on the biggest stage and under the biggest lights that the sport has to offer.

And…well…this is sort of a big deal. Obviously.

Erling Håland is a very good footballer. We all know this. He is, at his young age, a combination of physical traits and technical skill that is rare for someone that young. He is a lethal center forward, scoring at near-R9 Ronaldo rates since he arrived in the Bundesliga. He is one of the best young players we have seen in a while, and he is certainly someone who has the potential to be a Ballon d’Or winner and be at the apex of our game in the very near future. And he has joined one of the best teams in the world at the perfect time to do so.

City have done everything possible domestically. Pep Guardiola has won almost every trophy football can offer for a manager in England. They broke Premier League points records, goal records, and have won two impressive league titles when chased by an equally-impressive Liverpool. Even the day I write this, City came from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and seal yet another league title on the final day of the season, ten years on from Sergio Agüero’s famous goal against QPR. They have not, however, won the Champions League, despite being painstakingly close this year and last. Their most recent dramatic insane heartbreaking loss to Real Madrid in the semifinal feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. If there was ever a time to go all in on Pep’s tenure and find the player that can finally push City over the line, it is now, and City certainly hope that Håland is that player.

And there is a direct and specific need for a player like Håland in this City team. Many people for years have talked about how deadly City could be if they had a true world class center forward in their ranks. Agüero performed admirably in that role during the twilight of his career in Manchester, but they have still yet to adequately replace the Argentine. Gabriel Jesus certainly has talent, but the goals simply are not coming from the Brazilian. Jesus has even underperformed his Expected Goals throughout his tenure at City by nearly 20, which is insane when you think about the talent around him. Ilkay Gündogan was even utilized in that position last season to relative effectiveness, and he even scored two of City’s goals against Villa today, but it was certainly never going to be a long-term solution. Everyone thought City would eventually sign Harry Kane, but Spurs’ high asking price dissuaded City last summer. When Kane was not brought in, all eyes were fixated on Håland, and everyone else knew just how big the potential acquisition of the Norwegian would be for City.

So how exactly does Håland fit? He is not exactly the most gifted on-ball center forward out there, right? Would he be able to fit into the Pep system? Is he suddenly going to score 60 goals a season like he always seemingly does on Football Manager?

Well, I do not know about that last one, but the first few are good questions to explore. It would be relatively fair to say that Håland does not have the on-ball or passing ability that, say, Harry Kane has, and maybe Kane would have been a better fit in that regard. However, I do not think that is a big concern. City have so much talent and so much creativity operating around the center forward that they do not need the center forward to be as much of a creative player as Spurs do with Kane, for instance. When you are playing alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, and others, you simply just need to be dangerous and let them get you the ball. Håland is capable enough technically to effectively participate in the build up play, link up with his teammates, and progress attacking moves along. City under Pep has never demanded that much when it comes to on-the-ball action from their center forwards, potentially because they have never had a player capable of doing so, but also because of the sheer incredible amounts of talent in that team.

Where Håland does fit this City team like a glove, though, is with his attacking talent. His positional instinct and finishing ability feeds directly into the type of chances that City tend to generate. He is a player perfectly set up for scoring the “Man City goal”, you could say. Quite a bit of the chances City generate come off of cutback passes from the end line or diagonal crosses from either half space. These simply ask for the center forward, or whomever is in the penalty area at the time, to be in the right place at the right time and not waste the chance they are given. The two main non-Agüero players that City have experimented with in that position (aside from Gündogan, who was largely makeshift) were Jesus and Ferran Torres, and neither quite worked out as planned due to not being able to consistently deliver on the above two items. Ferran Torres is an immensely talented young player, but he is much more of a winger in style and mentality than a striker, and you could tell when you watched him play as a number nine for City. He moved fairly well, he scored some goals, but it was not quite as instinctive and perfectly timed as City needed, which is understandable since Ferran is a winger. Jesus had more of the strikers’ natural instinct than Ferran did, but he was simply not a consistent enough finisher to be a solution.

Håland has that instinct. His positional sense is phenomenal, and his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, no matter how simple that sounds, is already incredibly elite. Many of the goals he scored for Dortmund were off of crosses or cutbacks, so he has already scored plenty of the “Man City goals” in his career. His positional sense and lethal finishing combines well with his 6’4″ frame and strength, which allows him to be a menace to center backs when operating in the box and also be able to score with his head from crosses. It is as if he was designed in a lab to be the perfect striker for this team.

Are there any issues with this signing? Well, no. City signed one of the best players in the world who is tailor-made for their team and fills a direct hole in the team. I think possibly the one issue that comes has nothing to do with Håland himself. There is going to be a tendency, which is probably merited in many ways, to consider this City team complete, that this is now the fully constructed Death Star that is off to blow up Alderaan, hypothetically speaking. There is going to be an even greater expectation upon them, and many will say that Guardiola and City now have no excuses to not win the Champions League next season. Again, that is merited to a certain extent. City have spent a small fortune on this team and have yet to win the biggest prize in club football.

This City team is not perfect, though, and there are still glaring issues within this team that have not been addressed for years now. While Håland certainly fills the center forward void, they have still not fully solidified the defensive midfield role, the player who operates the deepest in their midfield three. Fernandinho’s absence in the Champions League Final against Chelsea last season was significant, and while Rodri has certainly grown in this role over the course of this season, they could certainly use another player in that position to at least offer a rotational option and to challenge Rodri. Fullback has remained a constant issue, and while turning João Cancelo into an inverted left back has worked wonders, there is no real solid option in either position aside from him. Kyle Walker is not getting any younger, while Oleksandr Zinchenko is, well, he’s alright, I guess? Pedro Porro seemed to be the ideal solution here, but City have allowed him to join Sporting Club on a permanent deal, and on-loan fullbacks Yan Couto and Issa Kaboré are not of the level required. I do also believe that City lack a bit of extra punch off the bench, a player who can come on outside of the strict system that Pep teams operate with and simply make something happen. While this could still end up being Jack Grealish, I am not alone in being underwhelmed by the Englishman’s first season at City. While it sounds ridiculous to say a team as expensively acquired as City’s still needs work, it still does, and City cannot rest on their laurels after signing Håland and expect everything to be easy. They still need to fix issues.

Now, a quick word on Borussia Dortmund.

This is certainly a massive, pivotal summer for Dortmund. Not only have Dortmund lost their best player, but they have now lost their manager as well. It was recently announced that the club have parted ways with manager Marco Rose which, despite whatever inconsistencies and issues they had this season, still seemed to be quite a surprise. Dortmund are seemingly no closer to overhauling Bayern Munich and winning a league title, so to be fair, now seems like the best time to start a rebuild. On a more positive note, Dortmund have already found their Håland replacement, signing another highly-touted Red Bull Salzburg striker in Karim Adeyemi. While a very different player to Håland, Adeyemi is still very talented and has sky-high potential. The only issue, however, is how all of the pieces fit together, and while we have some familiarity with newly re-arriving Dortmund manager Edin Terzić, it is still fair to question how exactly this is all going to work for Dortmund moving forward.

Well, Håland has his new team. The goal-scoring robot has joined one of the best teams in the world. Will he be incredible? Will he score 60 goals a year like he does in FM? Only time will tell…

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