Opportunistic strikers abound. All the major leagues in Europe are encouraged by dozens of players with a good eye for pushing the ball. Fast attackers also proliferate in 50 meters. Increasingly. What is really unusual is no longer opportunism or counter speed. The strange thing is to be fast in five meters. And in three. Or even in half a meter, like Erling Haaland. At 22, the Norwegian who is visiting the Bernabéu today in charge of Manchester City has become the best striker in the world because he is fast in a shoebox. Exactly the kind of speed that destroys the most impermeable framework ever invented to stop big teams—the ones that tend to be in control of the ball—massive retreats, tight low-block defenses, progressively more resilient, reactive, and defensive midfielders and pivots. agile at suffocating attackers in invisible dungeons where there is no one to pass because no one quite knows how to move. Haaland has come into the world to invent passing lanes in those scenarios.
“We have not changed the style; I have always liked how my team plays and this year as well”, Guardiola said this Monday at the Bernabéu. “We play the same; but if they want to put pressure on us high, man to man, as Madrid did this year against Barcelona, we will have to take advantage of it. You don’t play how you want to play. Sometimes the rival is better. I don’t like to suffer like we suffered against Bayern in Munich”.
Less than 5% of the teams they face throughout the season put pressure on City one on one. Guardiola does not decide how the rivals play and the rivals feel inferior. They prefer to dig trenches in front of their goal. As Leeds did and as, most likely, Real Madrid will do for a good part of the tie.
“Leeds played with a line of six defenders with four men ahead, and there we read the spaces very well,” observed the coach, after defeating (2-1) his last rival in the Premier, this Saturday; “We interpreted where our third man was, when to make the last pass, and we did it very well. Erling had at least three very clear chances because he was fabulous in complicity with his teammates in attack ”.
We have not changed the style for Haaland; I have always liked how my team plays and this year too. But if they want to put high pressure on us like Madrid did this year against Barcelona, we’ll have to take advantage of it.”
The general public may have thought that if Haaland did not score against Leeds it was because his streak of 51 goals in 46 games in all competitions this season may be interrupted. The truth is that his streak of unchecking in small spaces continues to grow in frequency and inventiveness. His weapon is the mystery that activates his brain: a precision instrument capable of adjusting the positions of the men who mark him around him and at the same time imagining the trajectories of the balls that the teammates who follow him can pass to him. His mind processes data so far in advance that true enlighteners of the last pass, such as Bernardo Silva, Gundogan or Kevin de Bruyne, sometimes take time to interpret it. Just as Eto’o’s deep unchecking completed the most visually beautiful version of Guardiola’s Barça, Haaland’s cognitive activity culminates the most sophisticated version of the combination game.
Haaland is an intellectual. But many analysts, encouraged by the big data, they only count striking numbers that relate to their body volume or their height as a giant of Valhalla. He nine, who has made a colorful lure of his physical attractiveness, amuses himself by inflating myths. The last one is her diet. It turns out that the man shows up daily for the team’s breakfasts armed with bags of powders that he takes care to display before diluting in water and drinking, giving obvious signs of disgust. When they ask him what the powders contain —shark teeth, lizard tails…— he assures that it is a secret. And the laughter infects everyone, especially Jack Grealish, the most dazzled of his colleagues.
He’s incredibly strong. People say that he drinks magic potions. But I have tried them and I will not score 50 goals. I will tell the homegrown players to emulate him in his technique, not in his concoctions ”
“He’s incredibly strong,” Guardiola explained, when asked why he didn’t take him off the field as he usually does and let him complete the game against Leeds. “People say that he drinks magic potions. But I have tried them and I will not score 50 goals. I will tell the homegrown players to emulate him in his technique, not in his concoctions ”.
Monomaniac by nature, Haaland is passionate about his football more than soccer, and tends to believe that the spectacle of his life is fascinating to his own colleagues. If his father, his Alf, who was a professional and a good captain, hadn’t instilled in him community values, he would talk much more about himself, something he frequently does. Some colleagues find it a bit burdensome. The fussy Kevin de Bruyne doesn’t like it off the pitch, but he appreciates it on it. Haaland’s unchecking has allowed the Belgian to give 27 assists, more than anyone this season in Europe.
“I want to get better at one thing: get my teammates to play better,” says Haaland; “I want to achieve that my they can be deeper and more unbalancing thanks to my actions.”
At the moment, Haaland’s goal-per-game ratio this season (1.11) barely doubles the average for Agüero (0.67), the club’s all-time goalscorer, and improves Cristiano’s average in his last seven seasons in Madrid (1.04). Unheard of figures for a tip of his age. Unknown numbers in attackers who play in the quagmire imposed on City in the Premier League and in Europe.
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