Guardiola’s Haaland challenge and the ghosts of the ‘nine’

Pep Guardiola has had several of the best scorers under his orders throughout his career. The best, and doubts are driven away by numbers, is Leo Messi, but he also had Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Arjen Robben, Thomas Müller, Kun Agüero… Many attackers in different positions and several forwards, but few fulfilling the most classic archetype of nine. In this, only two stars enter: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robert Lewandowski. Two with very different results. Officialized this Tuesday and available from the end of his vacation, Guardiola will have the third great nine of his career: Erling Braut Haaland.

The forward born in Leeds arrives at the Etihad to confirm himself within one of the most important clubs of the last decade. A leap that the club has made thanks to Pep Guardiola and that only lacks the Champions League after dominating England. Precisely, Erling Haaland’s fetish competition.

Everything seems perfectly placed for this story to translate into success and that is how both begin the adventure. One that has challenges, more for the coach, who has already experienced different cases with different ‘nine stars’.

fit the nine

Haaland in numbers

They say from England that Pep Guardiola is really proud of his team’s work this season. Each attacking player is compensating for the absence of a pure striker after the failed signing of Harry Kane for last season and is fighting for the Premier League, in addition to the fact that only the last white miracle kept them from repeating the Champions League final. Now, the desired nine arrives and mechanisms will have to be adjusted so that the Norwegian fits. Something that, with Jack Grealish as the best recent example, is not easy to do in a plan like Guardiola’s.

The Norwegian, although he is a pure finisher, has a good number of assists, but they always tend to come from the central zone of the rival field, where he spends 75% of the game time. Of all this, 65% do so in interior areas and 23% in the rival area. That is, the balls will have to be sent from the band or combined with him in the central zone. A more rigid attack that, yes, will be able to take advantage of all its finishing capacity. One, that despite his 194 height, is more a guarantee of scoring with his feet than from high, where according to data from BeSoccer Pro, he is remarkable, but still does not reach the outstanding (0.14 every 90 minutes). Nor is it outside the ‘cage’ of the area. Inside, yes. He is indomitable and also in the powerful transitions he makes, launching counterattacks with his particular way of running both while driving and standing out.

At the level of performance and fit, He has two similar examples to his profile although with different results: Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Barcelona and Robert Lewandowski in Munich.

That of the Pole is the most recent case and, as he found his site, he reached what at that time were the best numbers of his career. Lewandowski landed in Munich after ending his contract with Borussia Dortmund to join Guardiola’s Bayern in his second season. After a first year of training with a Mandzukic with whom he did not fit in and a veteran Claudio Pizarro, Pep received a top-level striker.

The year of his arrival was not easy at all. There were no injuries and he enjoyed all the opportunities, but he did not find all the necessary aim. 25 goals in 44 games that were somewhat short for what was seen in Dortmund. Guardiola’s third and last season was the one in which everything really fell into place for both of them. Robert Lewandowski signed his first great campaign ranking among the best in the world. He played 51 games and scored 42 goals in all competitions. Best scorer in the Bundesliga, second highest scorer in the Champions League, winner of the League and also the German Cup. The Champions League moved away again in the semifinals, but, from there, everything took off for the Pole who reached fourth place in the Ballon d’Or. Later, the cancellation of this due to the pandemic would ‘deny’ him said award.

In 2021, the Pole recognized the great influence the Catalan coach had on his career. “He taught me to see football from another point of view. Understand football from movement, tactics, how to use football from tactics. After the stage with Guardiola, I think differently about football, because I saw and see football from the outside, from another perspective, I see who was wrong, who could have done better, and how you can be one step ahead of your rival”he claimed.

The other side of the coin: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The first great signing they made for Pep Guardiola and the first attempt to fit a pure nine into their scheme. Was he frustrated by soccer? In part, but the memories of his angry exit cover a good season for the Swede.

This came as an absolute crack from Italy to Barcelona and signed a first season in which he lacked a few more goals (he scored 21) if something is to be blamed on him, but in which he shone in some of the most important games of the season. His were the two goals that saved Barcelona from falling in London against Arsenal in the quarterfinals of the Champions League (he could not be in the second leg) and also the goal that decided El Clásico at El Camp Nou. A center that flew from the right wing of the Camp Nou while the one from Malmöe cut through the center of the area between Pepe and Ramos to embed the ball at the first touch in Casillas’ goal. The Camp Nou went crazy and Ibra went through it like a Boeing with open arms from above.

Guardiola and Zlatan Ibrahimovic during a Manchester derby.

Ibrahimovic himself said that it was not a football problem, but a locker room problem, which ended his time in Barcelona. According to the Swede, Pep and he collided on one occasion due to a nuance that he made to him and we will never cross a word again. This is how he recently explained in Corriere della Sera his relationship with the coach. “Guardiola never understood me. He wanted to schedule everything that I had to do. I wanted to make instinctive plays, but then I thought about what he wanted and changed. In that way, I thought too much. Guardiola doesn’t like players with character. I had become a problem and since he couldn’t solve it, I solved it by leaving,” he said.

In 2017, the Swede delved into the situation and returned to put two other strikers as an example of a confrontation in his various efforts. “I told Guardiola that he had sacrificed the other players for Messi. He told me that he understood me. The problem was his, it was he who had not solved the problem with me. I read that the same thing had happened to Mandzukic and Eto’o” , he explained.

Nor is it that Guardiola himself lacks character to make decisions or try to do things his way, as the head of his plot that he is. Upon his arrival, recently promoted from Barcelona B, the coach asked Deco and Ronaldinho to leave the squad and also Samuel Eto’o, who ended up staying and being key to the treble.

Although Ibrahimovic is a unique and indomitable character for anyone, Erling Haaland and Guardiola have to accept each other to achieve success. The precedent of the clash is with the Swede and, although Haaland does not have outbursts at his level, he is not without ego.

The Norwegian has been the great star in the clubs he has been to and also in his national team. Now, he arrives in a galaxy and as such his status will be more similar to that of his companions. The Leeds-born has had some episode of controversy, asking Dortmund not to publish his injury reports, but also self-criticism. “He didn’t score enough goals, but I get close to one on average. Personally, I think he should have had more goals than games…” he assured after scoring a hat-trick against Gibraltar.

Both Marco Rose and March, his former coaches, recognize that he is hard-working and that he knows how to recognize his mistakes. “Haaland admitted that he has to improve,” said the coach of Dortmund. Regarding his care, Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest reference for him and, as AS already reported, he is a perfectionist to try to manage every aspect to improve. The main thing about him and the issue that does generate some concern are injuries.

His arrival raises expectations and also the demand for the Champions League. That is the great challenge for both of them, who will have to learn to understand each other. Guardiola will face the third challenge of managing the nine. Overcoming it or not depends a good part on success and being able to climb that rung that remains for City.

Hamann, the first detractor of the signing of Haaland

If anyone knows about going from German to English football and passing, precisely, through Mancester City, it is Dieter Hamann. The former midfielder for the Bavarians, Liverpool, Newcastle, City and MK Dons believes Haaland’s signing for City is a mistake for both. “I am surprised by this signing! Pep prefers center forward playmakers, so he often brings in Foden and Sterling. Haaland doesn’t really fit in that regard. Until the end I thought that Haaland would end up somewhere else,” he says about the fit that is already discussed in this article. The media cited the Mandzukic case as an example, although it is not the only one. The criticism remains in the air. Only the field It will give or take away the reason for the Bavarian.