Premier League champions Man City have failed to score in their last two fixtures across all competitions. They were held to a goalless draw in the Champions League against FC Copenhagen last week, before losing 1-0 to Liverpool on Sunday. Star striker Erling Haaland was an unused sub in Denmark, but played the full 90 minutes at Anfield. However, the lack of goals when the Norwegian isn’t firing, may be a cause for concern as it begs the question: have Man City become too reliant on Erling Haaland?
City went into the clash at Anfield as the undeniable favourites, given their electric start to the season. Liverpool were also experiencing their worst start to a campaign in recent years, only winning two of their opening eight games and coming off the back of a 3-2 defeat to Arsenal.
Haaland has been in phenomenal form, already bagging 20 goals across all competitions in just 14 appearances. The striker has already broken countless Premier League records since his move in the summer, including becoming the fastest player to reach three PL hat-tricks, achieving the feat in just eight league games. For context, the previous record holder was Michael Owen who did it after playing 40 games more than Haaland.
However, Pep Guardiola’s side may have developed a subconscious reliance on Haaland, given his expertise in front of goal, and Sunday’s trip to Liverpool may have highlighted that.
Kevin De Bruyne, who finished 3rd in the 2022 Ballon D’or rankings, would often drift to the right-hand side of midfield during City’s visit to Anfield, almost like a winger, and would instantly look up upon receiving the ball to scan for Haaland’s movements.
Many of Man City’s creative players immediately look for Haaland once they receive the ball. It’s unclear whether this is a tactic purposely deployed by Pep Guardiola, or if it’s just the natural tendency to try and get the ball to the best player. Either way, it may prove costly if teams can figure out a way to stop the former Dortmund star, the same way Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez did on Sunday.
However, a reliance on certain individuals isn’t uncommon, even amongst the elite clubs.
During the 2012/2013 PL campaign, legendary former Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, demanded his side play the ball to then-new signing Robin Van Persie whenever they had possession. The Scottish coach was well aware of Van Persie’s quality, and even threatened his players, by claiming he’d bench them if they didn’t follow those instructions.
At the end of the campaign, Ferguson was vindicated after United managed to wrestle the title back from Man City, led by Van Persie, who picked up his second consecutive Golden Boot award.
Furthermore, players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were also heavily relied upon during their prime years. Messi essentially single-handedly won La Liga for Barcelona in the few years prior to his move from PSG.
The Argentine would consistently finish top of both the scoring and assist charts in Spain. However, it was in the UCL where the magician could no longer carry his entire team, as Barcelona and Messi were often let down by other areas of the pitch, particularly their defence.
The strange thing about City becoming reliant on Haaland, is that they won the PL back-to-back without a recognized number 9 leading the line, indicating that the Manchester side don’t necessarily need Haaland to be successful.
The striker was initially planned to be another weapon in City’s arsenal, but has exceeded expectations, leading to Haaland being looked to in difficult moments.
However, there isn’t a better manager in world football, that will be able to tinker his system to allow Haaland and all the other attacking options to thrive. The system will still allow for the Norwegian to be on the end of countless chances, but will also let the other attacking players exploit the space left behind, as opposing defenders shift all their attention onto City’s number 9.
Despite Haaland experiencing a personal ‘goal-drought,’ we fully expect the striker to still beat Mohamed Salah’s record of 32 PL goals in a single campaign. Haaland is currently on 15 goals from just 10 appearances as City aim to chase down surprise league-leaders Arsenal.