Manchester City’s Erling Haaland has reminded observers of his underrated ability to score low-percentage efforts with goals against Brighton and Young Boys in the last week.
Thus, it is imperative to get the obvious out of the way: Haaland is not finishing as clinically as he did last season, evidenced by the eye test and underscored by the underlying numbers.
However, the striker’s start to year two in Manchester is a continuation of his ending to year one when the Norwegian failed to tuck away seemingly straightforward efforts converted earlier in the campaign.
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Delineating Haaland’s 2023-24 drop-off
The 23-year-old’s dip at the backend of last season was pointed out by Pulse Sports before the Cityzens’ Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid, a tie Pep Guardiola’s men won without their top marksman scoring any of the eventual treble winners' five goals.
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The abundance of match-winning quality at City meant Haaland’s inability to score as consistently at the backend of 2022-23 was not felt.
But Ilkay Gundogan’s departure and Kevin De Bruyne’s extended absence this term mean a continuation has been under the spotlight heading into Sunday’s Manchester derby.
Despite Haaland’s seeming dip, his nine goals outdo anyone in the Premier League. That number would be higher if the striker put away any of the nine clear-cut chances that have come his way. Unsurprisingly, no player has missed more big chances than the Norway international.
The former Borussia Dortmund striker has netted nine Premier League goals from xG of 8.2, an overperformance of 0.8. In the second half of the Bundesliga season in 2019-20, the overperformance was 4.2, while two full seasons at BVB saw Haaland outdo projected numbers by 3.5 and 4.1.
Those three were smashed in a record-smashing debut Premier League campaign that witnessed 36 goals from the 23-year-old from xG of 28.4 — an overperformance of 7.6.
Three matches have underscored Haaland’s labours this term for varying reasons: City’s 3-1 win at West Ham, a game the striker botched a bucketload of chances, and encounters at Wolverhampton and Arsenal, where there was little or no goalmouth activity.
The former Dortmund man managed one attempt at Molineux at the backend of September and none in the Cityzens’ loss at Arsenal, resurrecting the argument about the striker’s reliance on chances being put on a plate from teammates.
Despite many of Haaland’s goals coming from inside the penalty area, that notion is flawed.
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Erling Haaland is a professional soccer player for Norway and Manchester City FC of England. He is a one-time UEFA Men’s Player of the Year and Premier League player of the year. He was born in Leeds, England and currently holds the record for the most goals scored by a player in a single Premier League season, with 36 goals in the 2022–23 season. His father, Alf-Inge Håland, also played professional soccer and was a Norwegian international who played as a defender and midfielder.
Haaland’s underrated ball-striking
The Man City striker almost perfecting the art of scoring half-chances has seen him set a standard that means a dip in that level of performance does not go unnoticed.
This is underscored by the 23-year-old’s execution inside the penalty area that may not be put away by the average centre-forward but also highlighted by his ball striking that allows him to finish low-percentage efforts not considered clear-cut chances.
This has been evident in the last week against Brighton & Hove Albion and at Young Boys in Champions League action.
Against Roberto De Zerbi’s men, Haaland fired into the bottom right corner from almost 20 yards and scored inside the box with his supposedly weaker foot against the Swiss side. Both goals did not materialise from obvious scoring opportunities but from Haaland’s first-rate shooting and execution.
Neither were anomalies for the City striker, who netted impressively against Burnley on the opening day of the season at Turf Moor despite a sea of bodies in the home side’s penalty area.
That sort of strike was seldom seen in Haaland’s first season at the Etihad Stadium, even if a well-taken goal from 20 yards at Molineux last September came close. But there were a couple of acrobatic finishes at Southampton and against old side Dortmund, the former similar to his goal at Schalke in the 2020-21 campaign.
The easily recollected strike that underscores Haaland’s fierce ball-striking was his outstanding effort against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 game in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Further notable strikes came against Bayern Munich in 2020-21 — a shot from distance — and a curled effort with his weaker foot in a 3-2 home defeat to Die Bayern in 2021-22.
The digs and schadenfreude after firing blanks may never end. But Haaland’s underestimated capability to score from nothing suggests he is not wholly reliant on tap-ins as is intermittently claimed.