It’s easy. Erling Haaland is a freak of nature. He’s a robot from outer space, designed to be better than any footballer on this planet, just for the laughs. That’s what you’ve heard, isn’t it?
Let’s not get overly simplistic about this. Erling Haaland is the best footballer in the world at the moment. But how he scores so many goals can be scrutinized in far greater depth than simply saying he’s an alien. So with that, here is our latest analysis on the great Erling Haaland, and how he scores so many incredible goals.
THE ART OF APPEARING DISENGAGEDEmbed from Getty Images
Erling Haaland is remarkable in what he accomplishes, and much of those extraordinary characteristics come down to his ability to minimize his own threat level. Every single Premier League defender knows just how talented and deadly the Norwegian striker is in front of goal, yet they can’t come to grips with exactly how to mark him out of the game.
That’s because for long portions of the match, Erling Haaland appears almost disengaged. He wanders around in front of the defensive line, away from any kind of position that could put him offside or in the defensive line’s shackles, ready to engage in linking up the play from deeper on the field before exploding in behind. But that even extends to the penalty area, where he often possesses the appearance of someone who doesn’t even want the ball, before he suddenly bursts into action and funnels a pass into the back of the net.
He often likes to meditate after scoring goals, but it’s almost as though Haaland’s in a perpetual meditative stance, until awoken at the exact moment a teammate finds themselves free to play in the pass.
Before his goal against Southampton in City’s 4-0 win, Haaland walks around in front of his defender, not really bothered by the situation.
But then at the exact moment that Joao Cancelo finds space to cross the ball, Haaland leaps into action. He surges in front of the centre-backs, before firing the ball on his stronger left foot from close range.
When analysts like myself speak about “timing”, this is exactly what we mean. Movement is not about roaming around the field trying to find gaps. It has to match up with the awareness of what your teammates are able to see, and correspond with the exact moment that they can play the ball into your path.
It’s also about reading the body positioning of your defender. Haaland knows that if he surges to the back-post, two defenders remain in a great position to stop the cross. So with a quick shuffle of the feet (and Haaland is the best at this art), Haaland fakes like he’s ready to dart to the back-post, before shifting his weight onto the other side of the defender and advancing toward the penalty spot. Joao Cancelo is then able to meet his movement with the perfect cut-back cross for Haaland to hammer home.
So while the word “disengaged” may be an oversimplification, it’s important to recognize the patterns behind his starting positions, and the relative slowness behind those movement patterns as situations unfold. As his teammates hold up the ball and wait for overlapping or underlapping movements to create space, Haaland keeps his distance from defenders.
Those defenders then having nothing else to watch except for the flight of the ball, thus completely losing Haaland from their sights.
You can even catch him chilling offside to get away from high lines and touch-tight markers, before ghosting back into the penalty area at the right moment. Moments before that wonder goal against Dortmund, here’s the 22 year-old playing dead.
But then at the moment Joao Cancelo shapes up to put the cross into the box, Haaland’s well on-side, positions himself between defenders, and reacts to the cross in an extraordinary fashion.
While his goal against Dortmund serves as a wonderful example of his intelligence and brilliance, there’s no better strike this season that exemplifies this artistic timing better than his first against Sevilla.
Watch as Haaland slowly saunters toward the box, and then immediately sprints into the optimal scoring position as soon as KDB finds himself in space to deliver the cross.
His frightening running power is often the subject of conversation, but very few talk about just how intelligent Haaland is in running slow, to speed up at exactly the killer moment.
QUICKLY READING HIS TEAMMATES’ DESIRESEmbed from Getty Images
With any top goal-scoring striker, you will notice that they masterfully assess how to counter-act the opposition – particularly in their positioning and movement. But it always has to relate to the ball, the space and the teammates creating the situation. Haaland is perhaps the best at assessing all four of these elements in tandem, thus creating that half a yard for himself to score great goals.
But one of the simple truths behind his goal-scoring run at City simply comes down to having a wonderful cast and crew in behind him, all of whom match his intelligence in movement and positioning by playing to his strengths, and the patterns behind his play.
When most players see a situation like this unfolding, the natural instinct is to surge beyond the gap between the two defenders, on the blindside of the one most likely to stop the cross.
If the cross can then meet the movement, Haaland would be six yards away from goal with a tap-in.
But what Premier League defenses will have to realize, is that Haaland is far more likely to actually stay in front of the defense, sometimes even by simply holding his position.
His teammates recognize this facet of his play, and so passes into his path often come in the form of unexpected low-driven passes into the penalty area, rather than high-ball whipped crosses into the box.
As City continuously look for these cut-back crosses, it’s then a smart and subtle adjustment of the feet that allows the Norwegian to create room for the strike, almost always incorporating some kind of stutter-step toward the opposite direction from where he actually wants to go.
This isn’t to say that Haaland never advances between the gaps of defenders. That too can be a defining characteristic of his excellent goal-scoring, and something that separates him from the pack. But it’s always in relation to the flight of the ball.
Even in that wonderful Kevin de Bruyne assist against Manchester City, Haaland first shapes up as though he’s wanting to run across and in front of Varane, before quickly adjusting his feet to the flight of the ball.
In fact, most of the goals Haaland’s scored this season from running in behind an opposition defense have been assisted by Kevin de Bruyne. Haaland knows that when the Belgian wizard has his head up and space to advance, it’s thunder time.
When the ball finds itself out wide with someone like Cancelo or Foden, Haaland knows to hold his run, and seek a pass that finds him in front of the opposition defense.
POWER BEHIND THE STRIKEEmbed from Getty Images
As a kid, I can remember playing the computerized version of football on FIFA 09, and hearing the commentators speaking about the importance of striking the ball hard and low. As a child, this can be counter-intuitive. The goals that find the top corner simply look the coolest, after all. But when it comes to Haaland, it’s important to reiterate once more that most of his goals come hard and low, into the bottom corner. But even when he doesn’t find the corner, his strikes come at the keeper so fast and so strong that he demolishes the back of the net within the blink of an eye.
In some ways, this comes down to the proximity of goal in which Haaland often strikes the ball. He’ll take a shot from outside the eighteen if the right opportunity presents itself, but more typically, he’s waiting for the perfect moment to pounce inside the penalty area.
This close proximity often leaves keepers rooted to the spot, where they have no choice but to watch the ball fly into the net.
Out of all the goals Haaland’s scored this season, only three have been above the mid-height of the goal. This makes his strikes more difficult to stop for the keeper (having knees make it harder to drop down then to jump high), and ensures he’s hitting the target rather than blasting the ball over. Knowing this fact, keepers can be ready to get themselves in a lower stance, and attempt to read the direct of the shot before Haaland strikes the ball. Unfortunately for most keepers and defenders in the world (actually all of them), Haaland just possesses a higher level of thinking.
HIGHER LEVEL THINKINGEmbed from Getty Images
One of the arguments to Haaland being a robot is that “he always knows exactly where to be, as if he’s been programmed to be there!!” While remarkable, it comes from a crucial skill of critical thinking, and quickly conjuring up spaces to advance into that allow him to score goals. When others fall asleep or in footballing terms “ball watch”, Haaland’s thinking about he can get on the end of a rebound for an easy tap-in.
That separates him from the defenders trying to mark him above anything else, with just a higher level of thinking and intelligence that matches his imposing physical frame.
While the entire opposition may become attracted to another player, Haaland is then free to find himself all on his own. Once more, we can see how the quality of his City teammates nicely plays into the insanity of his goal-scoring record.
But again, it’s about putting himself in positions where he can find himself unmarked at the crucial moment, even if it means he remains disengaged from the initial instance.
Beyond the penalty area, this comes deeper on the field too. The 22-year-old is fantastic at assessing space available to receive the ball away from the opposition’s defense. We’ve spoken before about his ability to hold-up the play and receive with his back to goal, but he’s also masterfully able to exploit gaps that open in the opposition’s defense. He can then play nice passes backwards or forwards to teammates in space, or drive forward all on his own where his imposing physicality takes flight.
His hat-trick goal against Crystal Palace served as the perfect example of so many of the best Haaland facets summed up in one ten-second span, and even had Jon Mackenzie calling it a goal that no other striker in the world would score.
It’s also perhaps the greatest example of how he can combine that intelligence with his raw physicality, as he takes his touches away from the recovering defender, before shrugging them off and caressing the ball into the net.
cONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Erling Haaland is an alien from outer space. That might be partially true. But by studying the patterns behind his movement, and the types of passes he is likely to receive from different teammates, we can begin to assess ways in which to slow the striker down and stop him from breaking the goal-record by an insane margin. For now, no one’s quite worked out how to stop the former Dortmund man, and Erling Haaland appears set to break every record imaginable. The close proximity to the net makes most of his shots impossible to stop, but his goal-scoring comes down to a mix of intelligence and timing in his movement to serve his teammates at the right moment, long before the ball finds his foot for the shot. While we’ve never quite seen a striker like him in the Premier League with the same imposing physical frame, Haaland’s timing and intelligence are the hallmarks of his goal-scoring, and the true elements behind his stunning form.
Embed from Getty Images
So there it is! A tactical analysis of how Erling Haaland has scored so many goals at the start of his Manchester City career. Be sure to check out more of our player analyses, and even more on Erling Haaland and his incredible strengths. Oh, and don’t forget to ghost on over to Twitter and give us a follow @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys! Thanks for reading and see you soon!
-> Game of Numbers – #3 – The Evolution of the Target Man
-> Why Erling Haaland is perfect for Manchester City
-> Erling Haaland – Player Analysis
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