Wolves defender Max Kilman summed up Erling Haaland perfectly after managing the rare achievement of keeping him under lock and key last weekend. The “problem” with Haaland, he said, is that he is very patient. “If he doesn’t get the ball for 20 or 30 minutes – he doesn’t mind.”
If that was good news for Wolves, who got through the 90 with him making barely a significant contribution to Manchester City’s cause, it is almost certainly bad news for RB Leipzig this week. Because throughout his meteoric rise to the very top of the game, Haaland has rarely stitched one anonymous performance to another.
When questions begin to be asked about how many touches he has in the game (he had 15 versus Wolves), about his goal threat, he usually answers them. And emphatically too. Haaland’s longest run without a goal last season was five games and that included a Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid and a tight final against Inter in Istanbul.
It is worth pointing out that run came at the end of a very long season in which he had already contributed 52 goals in 48 appearances. Aside from that dry patch, his longest spell without a goal numbered three matches, twice, and in both he missed over 45 minutes of one of the matches.
In short, Haaland’s dips do not last long. Leipzig will need no reminding of that given they managed to keep him quiet in Germany in the last 16 first leg last season but three weeks later at the Etihad when his form was being questioned he rattled five past them in 35 minutes.
Haaland’s tally this season stands at eight from his nine games in all competitions. He already has a hat-trick in the bag from the Fulham game so it is hardly panic stations. Rumblings Julian Alvarez might be given a spin up top ignore the fact that the Argentine is playing well in the withdrawn striker role behind Haaland.
And they also ignore the fact that the Norwegian’s numbers are not exactly heading south. Against Wolves he was average because he was closely and robustly marked by Kilman, Toti and Matthew Dawson who all did a superb job to match him for pace and presence.
Probably more significant was the fact that in playing deeper than they might have normally, Haaland was denied any space to run into. That, more than anything, forces him to play out of his comfort zone and on the toes of those in behind.
There can be no doubt that Kevin De Bruyne’s absence is having an impact on the way City play and the way Haaland is found, too, with it noticeable that the creativity through the middle is lacking without him in the side. Haaland struck up a superb partnership with the Belgian last season with De Bruyne providing the assist on 13 of his 52 goals.
But talk of a dip in form, that he is some flat-track bully, should be treated with the scorn it deserves. They certainly will be aware of Haaland’s threat in Saxony this week, where they will be battening down the hatches ahead of the Champions League group game.
Kilman added: “He is just one of the best in the world and he understands way Man City want to play and his threat and movement is top. He’s very powerful, so you have to be extra on it against him.”
Wolves might have set out a template of how to deal with him but plenty have found that executing is another matter entirely.