Haaland could be even more dangerous this season
Four minutes was all Erling Haaland needed to open his account for the 2023/24 Premier League season. Within 36 minutes, the Norwegian striker had doubled his tally, netting the first two goals in Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Burnley at Turf Moor. Haaland’s second goal in particular served a reminder of his devastating quality.
Despite back-tracking away from goal, the 23-year-old generated enough power to find the back of the net off the underside of the bar after being set up by Julian Alvarez inside the box. Haaland scored twice from an Expected Goals (xG) value of just 0.57, giving City the sharpest of cutting edges in front of goal.
Haaland set a new record for the most goals (36) in a single Premier League campaign last season, but he could be even more dangerous this season. The Norwegian’s two goals against Burnley could be a hint of more to come. Barring injury or suspension, Haaland could set an even higher benchmark for himself.
Last season, Haaland faced a period of integration after joining Manchester City from Borussia Dortmund. There was widespread debate over Haaland’s role in Pep Guardiola’s team with many pointing out his lack of involvement in City’s overall build-up. Some even questioned Haaland’s decision to make the move to the Etihad Stadium.
Guardiola needed to tweak his system to get the best out of his new signing. Indeed, the Catalan moved to a back three and shifted John Stones into central midfield to push Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan closer to Haaland. This solved the issue of the Norwegian striker being too isolated as City’s attacking focal point and helped to get the best out of him.
There won’t be that period of integration this season. Gundogan might have left Manchester City at the end of last season, joining Barcelona as a free agent, but Guardiola already seems to have settled on Alvarez as the German’s replacement, using the Argentine in a supporting role in behind Haaland. Phil Foden could also grow in importance this term.
Under Guardiola, Haaland is likely to get even better. The Manchester City manager maintains the highest of standards, as demonstrated by the way he berated Haaland in front of the TV cameras at half time of Friday’s win over Burnley, and so it’s reasonable to assume the Norwegian will add more to his game over the coming seasons.
“I don’t think too much about this [early goals],” Haaland said after scoring twice against Burnley. “The main thing is to play good as a team and to get the three points. That’s exactly what we did throughout the whole game. It was a good start. We have to try to still play the football we did last year. And to keep on building what we did last year because it was something truly special what we achieved.”
Alvarez could be the key to City getting even more out of Haaland this season. Guardiola demonstrated a willingness in pre-season to use the Argentine in a front two alongside Haaland, drawing opposition defenders away from the Norwegian. If City can maintain control in the centre of the pitch, this approach could work well this season.
Manchester City will face tougher tests this season than an opening day fixture against a promoted team, even one as strong as Burnley, but their performance suggests there is even more to come from them. Haaland is clearly comfortable in his surroundings with Guardiola still building around the 23-year-old. That could be bad news for the rest of the Premier League.