Editorial

Is EringHaaland the last piece of the puzzle for Manchester City’s European dream?

The Champions League has always been a touchy subject for Manchester City fans. Seemingly destined to elude them, Pep Guardiola has never managed to get his hands on the big-eared trophy throughout his time in England, despite shelling out so much money to build his side into a true powerhouse.

They have come close before. Most notable was the 2021 final, where a socially-distanced crowd saw Guardiola perhaps overthink the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in Portugal. Last season they were minutes away from successive finals, but the might of Real Madrid on the biggest stage ensured they would be watching the Parisian showpiece from home as they prepared for the next season.

It’s not all doom and gloom at the Etihad campus though. Retaining the Premier League only furthered Guardiola’s credentials for perhaps the greatest manager that the English game has seen. City are regular favourites for the title when making a football bet and their record in the League Cup is unrivalled at the moment.But domestic dominance will only take you so far. To really stamp his authority over Sir Alex Ferguson, José Mourinho and even Jürgen Klopp, the Spaniard will need that European winner’s medal to hang on the mantelpiece.

His last arrived over a decade ago at Wembley, when a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona bossed their way to a win against Manchester United. It was individual brilliance that won Guardiola the trophy then, and he could rely on that again through his new number nine at Manchester City.

Indeed, ErlingHaaland looks to have taken City to the next level. We all remember a tearful Guardiola reluctantly concealing that his side couldn’t replace Sergio Agüero, but after waiting a season for a recognised striker, Haaland has been the man to do the business. The 22-year-old, arriving in England as the most sought-after striker of the summer, looks to be an absolute steal from Borussia Dortmund. The Norwegian had a release clause that saw him trade the Bundesliga for the Premier League at just £65 million, and while he is picking up some heavy wages, it will be no skin off the back of the City owners if he proves to be the difference-maker in Champions League success.

Haaland has one of the best goal-to-game records in the history of the Champions League. Add to that the 15 Premier League goals he’s scored by mid-October and you have the final piece of the jigsaw as far as City are concerned. His ability to finish off chances, especially with the service of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden, makes him one of the deadliest strikers around, and not going to the World Cup will allow him to avoid any injuries and come back into the knockout rounds in top condition.

City have cruised through their Champions League group so far, but the ultimate test comes in the latter stages of the competition, and Haaland will need to do more than just score the goals if he is to help guide his side to Istanbul. He cut something of a frustrated figure when missed out in the goalless draw away to Copenhagen. Despite his side playing with 10 men for over an hour, he failed to get the chance to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, something Guardiola believes was down to his recovery.

“He finished the game against Southampton so so tired and he didn’t recover well these two, three days,” he said. “Yesterday was not good, today was a little bit better but not perfect and we decided not to take the risk.”

There will be times this season where Haaland fails to influence the game for large periods of time, but that boils down to him getting more involved in the initial build-up to his goals. Compare this to Karim Benzema. The Frenchman looks destined to win the Ballon d’Or and his presence alone was the reason Real Madrid won the trophy last season. He seems to naturally drop deeper to accommodate his midfielders, and his creativity as well as his ability to arrive in the final third and the right time is something Haaland could take inspiration from.

As we approach the World Cup break Guardiola will have been pleasantly surprised by Haaland’s goal return. Surely even he couldn’t have envisioned the almost robotic nature in which the Norwegian converts chances. Only time will tell how far City go this season but they’ll owe their talisman a lot if they lift the trophy at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium come June.

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