Erling Haaland’s minute of madness shows one area he can improve in for Man City in the new year
Erling Haaland admitted he was ‘p*‘ not to score more than two goals at Leeds, focussing more on the three efforts he missed rather than the two strikes that ultimately won Manchester City another three points.
Pep Guardiola ominously said that Haaland can get even better, despite becoming the fastest player to reach 20 Premier League goals. His 21st, against Everton, saw him set yet another record as the player with the most goals in a Premier League season before the turn of the year.
And he had six weeks off.
But Haaland’s danger in front of goal is nothing new, and when Guardiola talks of the striker improving, it’s certainly not a reference to his goalscoring.
Instead, it’s the off-the-ball involvement in City’s build-up and all-round game that can improve. Against Everton, he arguably took those notes on board and could be seen sprinting back to regain possession at times he hasn’t previously.
Haaland himself admitted at Leeds that he can also work on his mentality after missing chances, in order to quickly put a disappointment behind him and focus on the next chance.
His Everton performance suggests there is still work to do on that front.
Within a minute against the Toffees, he was accidentally clattered by Ben Godfrey as they jumped for a ball, and Haaland responded by trying to exact revenge on Godfrey for the next few minutes, nearly getting booked in the process when he sent the centre-back flying down the slope pitchside and sent him to the floor off the ball.
When he won a free kick out wide towards the end of a bad-tempered first half, he raised his arms to the crowd, cupped his ear, and asked for more from the South Stand, who duly obliged. He has celebrated some of his goals with less enthusiasm than he did for a run-of-the-mill free kick.
Moments later, when the set piece was cleared towards the corner flag, Haaland sprinted to slide in on Vitaliy Mykolenko, catching him high and collecting the yellow card he avoided earlier.
As Everton players raced to demand the card turn into a red one, Haaland wisely skipped away from a melee, ending a minute that maybe suggested he’s still got work to do on that temperament and getting caught up in the moment.
In fairness, Haaland sought out Mykolenko in the tunnel at half-time to apologise, and he should also get credit as the initial free kick came from him drifting out wide to keep the ball, marking a change from his usual heatmap that sits predominantly within the outer edges of the 18-yard box.
In that respect, Haaland showed the benefits of listening to Guardiola and becoming more involved in City’s all-round build-up. It was noticeable that on the occasions he did leave the Everton box, City’s midfielders were sprinting into the box where Haaland is usually waiting.
However, the other more unpredictable aspects of his performance might highlight what Haaland touched on after his Leeds goals – keeping the right mentality for the full 90 minutes.