The Haaland factor

Manchester, April 20

The arrival of Erling Haaland has given Manchester City one of the most formidable scorers ever seen in English football, with his presence enabling manager Pep Guardiola to evolve his tactical approach in the biggest games.

Guardiola will always prefer his teams to dominate possession. “Maybe one day they will change the rules,” he once said, “but I think to score a goal you need the ball.”

Guardiola, however, is no longer wedded to the possession-based philosophy that was the hallmark of his trophy-laden time at Barcelona, as well as at Bayern Munich and City.

Just look at City’s most important matches this season: In an away game at Premier League title rivals Arsenal in February, City had only 36 per cent possession — the team’s lowest figure in 11 years. City won 3-1. In the two legs against Bayern in the Champions League quarterfinals, City had 44 per cent possession at home last week and 42 per cent in Germany on Wednesday. City won 3-0 then drew 1-1 to advance to the semifinals with plenty to spare.

It’s no coincidence. Guardiola, it seems, is becoming less stubborn about the football style for which he has become so renowned.

It could yet lead City to a first Champions League title.

“In the Champions League, we’ve learnt from our mistakes of the past,” City midfielder Bernardo Silva said after Wednesday’s game.

“Before, we used to think that we needed to be 90 minutes dominating the game, controlling in their final third. But in this competition, when you play against Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, you need to accept that there are times when you need to defend, be consistent, work hard to not give away easy chances and that is what we’ve been trying to work on. In the past, we’ve had a lot of frustrating nights because of that.”

The impact of Haaland cannot be understated.

The Norway striker doesn’t press like City’s previous strikers, such as Gabriel Jesus or the latter-day Sergio Aguero. What he does offer, particularly in big games, is a devastating presence on the counterattack with his strength and pace. — AP

Champions league

Results (quarterfinals)

Bayern 1-1 City

Kimmich 83′ (P) Haaland 57′

(Man City win 4-1 on agg)

Inter 3-3 Benfica

Barella 14′ Asurnes 38′

Martinez 65′ Silva 86′

Correa 78′ Musa 90+5′

(Inter win 5-3 on agg)

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