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Johnny Phillips: Haaland can propel City into a league of their own

There are countless clubs in the Premier League crying out for a player of Erling Haaland’s potency and potential – yet Manchester City are probably not one of them.

Erling Haaland’s capture by
Manchester City is a signing
that will make rivals quake
Erling Haaland’s capture by Manchester City is a signing that will make rivals quake

But, in an ominous sign for their rivals, it is the biggest spenders in Europe who have enticed the striker from Borussia Dortmund. In doing so they have added yet another sprinkle of stardust to a squad already bloated with talent.

Pep Guardiola tried and failed to bring Harry Kane to the Etihad Stadium last summer, instead spending the money on a midfielder, Jack Grealish.

The former Villa man has been a useful presence at times but his addition to the City ranks was not a necessity and it is hard to gauge how much of an impact he has actually had in a season where City look set to pick up yet another league title. City were blessed with midfielders through the middle or out wide before Grealish’s arrival, and as a result there was nobody required to fill the void left by Sergio Aguero at the top of the pitch.

Despite Gabriel Jesus wearing the number nine shirt he is often been preferred out wide where he can be equally effective.

City are blessed with many goalscorers from their wide areas. Riyad Mahrez has 24 goals in all competitions this season, with Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bernado Silva and Jesus all comfortably into double figures.

Haaland’s arrival changes the dynamic. If he is to flourish at the Etihad Stadium then it may be at the expense of somebody thriving elsewhere in the team.

Looking at the evidence on Wednesday evening at Molineux, where Wolves were given the ultimate run around by a City side so slick in its movement and passing, the need for an out-and-out striker does not look obvious.

Kevin De Bruyne ran the show from a much deeper position, with Foden and Sterling also finding joy with late runs into the box from wide areas.

Wolves could not cope with the volume of these runs and the quality of passing through the lines.

Haaland is a class act; a brutish presence for defenders and a lethal finisher.

It might be that Guardiola adapts his City side to accommodate these qualities, but he will also expect Haaland to do some adapting of his own, not least with his work rate off the ball.

As impressive as the forward play from the likes of Silva, Sterling and Foden has been the relentless pressing they accomplish when City are out of possession is a key feature of their game.

Even the less energetic pair of Jesus and Mahrez have satisfied Guardiola with their industry off the ball this season. That side of the game is something Haaland is capable of too.

He is not a false nine or a wide man, though. Put simply, he is the big man up top who thrives on service and brings with him a guarantee of nearly a goal every game.

What he will do is occupy the last line of defence in a way nobody at City currently does. In this sense his presence may open up even further space for the on-running midfielders and wide men who have had so much joy this season.

The current City team thrive on drawing defenders out with tight passing triangles and finding pockets of space. Haaland will occupy the opposition in a different way.

He could be a magnet for trouble in the eyes of opponents who may feel the need to double up on the player to avoid a one-on-one duel where Haaland will always back his physicality and technique over his marker.

The Norwegian’s career path has been on a strong upward trajectory since he broke into the professional game and he will be aware of what this next step involves.

The player knows that he may need to be patient as he waits for the final pass and he will be acutely aware of the work rate demanded by his new manager.

There is a parallel of sorts going back to the early days of Guardiola’s coaching career at Barcelona. In 2009 he signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan in exchange for Samuel Eto’o and £50million.

It was a huge deal but it was not a success. Ibrahimovic only stayed for one full season, with head coach and player falling out spectacularly, before he was sent back to Inter on loan.

Guardiola is a different manager now and Haaland is certainly not the fully-fledged striker and strong-headed off field presence that Ibrahimovic was back then.

Haaland is similar in stature on the pitch but he’s also much quicker than the Swede and has already proved what an excellent passer of the ball he is for someone still so relatively young.

The hunger for success will be there too.

The 21-year-old has won just one league title, the Austrian Bundesliga, and a German Cup in his short career and is keen to add more silverware after seeing his Dortmund side play second fiddle to Bayern Munich for the last three seasons.

It has been a long time since a player of Haaland’s style has featured in a Guardiola team and it will be fascinating to see the results of this headline-grabbing transfer.

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