Man City striker Haaland returning to Dortmund an ever better player
When Erling Haaland returns to Borussia Dortmund for the first time since his bargain £51 million ($63m) switch in the summer, there will be plenty that the German fans will be familiar with.
The imposing physique, lightning-fast sprinting, the remarkable ability to sniff out goals and unshakeable self-confidence – all traits from his remarkable two seasons in the Bundesliga.
After 86 goals in 89 matches, no opponent is more aware of the qualities of the Manchester City striker, and perhaps no club with a better knowledge in how to stop him.
Of course, they weren’t able to do so in the two sides' first meeting this season, when Haaland escaped to the back post to steer in an acrobatic winner at the Etihad that was so special, Pep Guardiola was reminded of his great hero Johan Cruyff.
That was definitely the same striker that left Signal Iduna Park just a few months, the same natural instinct to know where the danger would be and how to make the most of it.
It was the No.9 who was questioned early in his City career about his lack of involvement and replied that it would be a dream to have only five touches and score five goals.
Guardiola, who has played alongside great strikers such as Romario and Hristo Stoichkov and worked with Robert Lewandowski and Sergio Aguero as a coach, said he was surprised by Haaland's predatory skills.
HAALAND, STOP THAT! 🤯— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 14, 2022
A ridiculous assist from Cancelo, an even more ridiculous finish from Erling Haaland 😍
How does he do this!? #UCL pic.twitter.com/7u2W23ZC6j
“I didn't know how good he was moving in small spaces in the box, he scores a lot in the box,” the City boss said ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash in Germany, which will decide who tops Group G.
“He goes away from the action to be closer to the goal – these kinds of moments are not easy for a striker.
“Apart from that his work ethic, he is one of the first to arrive for the training centre, one of the last to leave.
“He looks after his body, is well-educated in how he has to live as a professional and he has the intent to get better.
“Last season, he had a few injury problems but this year, thanks to our doctors and physios he can play every three days, which is really important for us and for him.”
Haaland has 22 goals from 15 matches since his move to the Etihad Stadium, which suggests he has just taken his Dortmund form with him to Germany.
Except Guardiola censured him for his comments about lack of touches and has challenged him to become even more involved, and potentially even more deadly.
A possible Ballon d’Or winner of the future, the City boss believes Haaland can get even better and is already coming up with ways to maximise his abilities, particularly now he’s a target for defenders who are determined to deny him any space.
Take Saturday’s Premier League victory over Brighton – a tight, tactical battle where the opening goal was all-important.
Seagulls boss Roberto de Zerbi instructed his side to follow City's outfield players all over the pitch, forcing the ball back to goalkeeper Ederson, who was short of options.
During an injury break early in the game, Guardiola called over Haaland, followed by Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Ruben Dias with a plan on how to create an opportunity.
A few minutes later with the ball at the goalkeeper’s feet, Haaland dropped deep, City’s midfield drew their markers away and Ederson launched a perfect ball upfield.
The rest was pure brilliance from Haaland, sprinting away from Lewis Dunk, taking the ball around the keeper, barging Adam Webster out of the way and finishing neatly for a stunning breakthrough.
🤝 The assist— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 22, 2022
💪 The strength
🤩 The finish
Erling Haaland's opener had everything! 👊#ManCity pic.twitter.com/GiGwtn84pT
But take him some other statistics from his early days at the Etihad.
He has created six ‘big chances’ this season and has three assists, including two in the Manchester Derby mauling of neighbours United.
In training, he has been working on his link-up play and passing, as well as finishing with his ‘weaker’ right foot and heading, which he feels he needs to improve.
At Dortmund, two-thirds of his goals were with his left foot; at City, it’s dropped to less than 60 per cent.
Haaland may well have continued to make progress had he remained in Germany but like so many before him, he decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Guardiola.
Certainly, he was grateful for everything he learned and achieved during his time at Dortmund, and the celebration which followed his late winner over his old club was muted.
“I think it will be a good [reception],” Guardiola said of Haaland's return to Signal Iduna Park. “He scored a lot of goals at Dortmund.
“The manager they had (Marco Rose) made the player we have. Hopefully, he will become a better player thanks to the team-mates he plays with now.”
Indeed, the evidence suggests that the process is already well under way.