Erling Haaland looks lost to remind Manchester City it will take time | Community Shield
OK. It might take a while. Just talk to each other. For Erling Haaland, it was a start not just to forget, but to shred, cremate and bury at the bottom of the garden. Haaland looked tired at the end of this sweaty Community Shield final, a curtain raiser for a stage barely cleared of tables and men in brown coats.
For much of the second half at the King Power Stadium, Haaland hid and scoffed in the center circle. With seconds to go, he landed a wonderfully sincere miss, snagging his bar-top shot with all the easy grace of a man ramming a crumpled beer can into a hedge.
For the most part, Haaland looked like he was, a totally different type of player to his teammates, and a man who will of course need time, regardless of his record so far. It’s no secret that Manchester City’s excellent summer addition lacks fitness, but it’s more a matter of aptitudeof its own mosaic with the way City play.
There wouldn’t have been much benefit in doing what Haaland did here with more energy, being inefficient with greater intensity. By the end, he’d taken 16 touches, won zero headers, made no interceptions or dribbled, completed seven passes, and produced a willful but ultimately futile exercise of trapped energy, like an oversized fly weaving its way down the along a window.
New team, new style, new plans: but these are remarkable numbers. Has a player ever played 90 minutes in a Pep Guardiola team and managed seven assists?
In the event Haaland was upstaged by Darwin Núñez, who came on with half an hour to go and made one and scored one in Liverpool’s convincing 3-1 win. Núñez provided an obvious counterpoint, a footballer instantly comfortable with Liverpool’s very specific idea of what a top three should look like. He ran strong in the middle. He sounded direct and clear in his mind. As a case study in buying a player that clearly matches your pre-existing attacking style, it was pretty compelling.
The King Power had been a damp and clammy place at kickoff. The sound was raw and eerily loose, as if everyone had just woken from a summer fever dream to find themselves unexpectedly thrust into this thing, this world, this energy. Which is, let’s face it, pretty much what happened.
Seeing Haaland on City’s team sheet was an instant adrenaline rush: all those vowels, the symmetry of the consonants. Even his name is a unit. After 11 minutes he had his first real touch for City, coming deep to put in a throw-in and trapping the ball with all the skill of a man trying to catch a tennis ball from a frying pan.
For a moment, he seemed a little lost in this team of interlocking ankles. It’s easy to become jaded, to forget that City play football unlike anything else, a pressure wave where moves repeat and multiply, pieces rotate and disappear. Let’s throw a baseball bat in the middle of this and see how it goes.
City’s starting formation was a fluid 4-1-4-1, with only Rodri and Haaland keeping a separate part of the pitch in front of the defence. But they have sometimes been exceeded. City still have too many players on the pitch. Here, for the first time, they seemed not to have enough. Sounds like an easy observation, it’s also true: the big advantage of not playing with a striker has been that extra man, the extra angles, the extra passing option. Control, possession, make a friend of the ball. That was all. Will it be easy to find new models?
Liverpool took the lead thanks to a deflected shot from Trent Alexander-Arnold, and for most of the game they seemed to be the most consistent and dynamic team. For City, the issue isn’t so much that Haaland was bad (he was) or that he looked mismatched (he is). Everyone knows it, no one better than Pep himself, who knows it in vivid, grainy detail.
The question is how long will this run-in last and what form can it take? Can Haaland just cross it? He could have the appearance of an indestructible force of engineered athletic will. But form and confidence are not inexhaustible substances. And the Premier League is kind of a brutal theatre.
In the end, Guardiola brushed off questions about Haaland’s lack of sharpness. “He has incredible quality,” he shrugged. That’s okay, of course, and it’ll be fascinating to see exactly how his manager tries to bring that out. On the evidence here, there is at least one thing to be happy about. Guardiola really likes coaching.