Erling Haaland Is City's Premier League Luxury And A Champions League Necessity

The Norway international could punish Madrid on Tuesday
22:00, 08 May 2023

Manchester City’s almost-inevitable 2-1 victory over relegation-strugglers Leeds United only really taught us two things. The first was that Erling Haaland is human after all. The big Norwegian missed a number of gilt-edged chances that far-weaker strikers than him would have gobbled up gratefully. The other key lesson was that City don’t even need Haaland to beat most teams in this league. 

They’ll need him on Tuesday night. For that is the night when City boss Pep Guardiola returns to the sight of perhaps his most enduring rivalry. It might be 11 years since he managed Barcelona, but Pep vs Real Madrid will always feel like El Clasico. The record-holders for European Cup success stand in the way of City’s long-gestating Champions League ambitions.


It would be churlish to characterise a difficult afternoon at the Etihad against Leeds as the start of any sort of decline for Haaland. Every player can be forgiven an isolated bad day at the office. A player who has scored 35 goals in 32 Premier League games should have the entire office named after him. But seeing City dominate Leeds without battering them did beg the question of how vital Haaland’s contributions are?

On the one hand, the Norway international’s goals can be seen as the icing on an expensive, beautifully-balanced cake. City have won four of the last five Premier League titles without Haaland in the side. The player, you could argue, was bought to simply affirm dominance that would exist without his input. City have bossed this league without even fielding a striker at times. Having one is arguably just an exercise in putting a recognisable face on their opponent’s destruction.

But the Haaland-less City fell short of the club’s greatest ambition. While league titles have become as commonplace at the Etihad as they used to be at a certain nearby stadium in Stretford, the Champions League trophy eludes Man City. The 2021 final was the closest Guardiola’s men have come to lifting Ol’ Big Ears, but they fell short 1-0 to underdogs Chelsea.


Watching Haaland annihilate the Premier League has been entertaining, but Europe is where Guardiola needs him most. Erling has helped City guard the throne at home, with a fifth league title under Pep looking almost inevitable. But they could have conceivably done that without him, as useful as those 35 goals have been to accomplishing that age. Now it’s time to do something they have never accomplished. 

This is a revenge mission for City. Real Madrid knocked them out in the semi final last year. It was a scarcely believable comeback which required three goals after the 90-minute mark from Madrid. Even more so than their final defeat, it felt like a demonstration of some invisible blockade preventing the club from tasting continental glory.

But if one City player has proven themselves capable of smashing through barricades it’s Haaland. Almost every conceivable single-season record has fallen to his scoring prowess. The Premier League goal tallies for both a 38-game and 42-game Premier League season. The most goals by a City player in one campaign. Even in Europe, he is already the club’s sixth-top scorer despite playing just eight games. Nothing has proven beyond the 22-year-old, so why should firing City to a Champions League triumph?

If the Haaland who turned out against Leeds shows up again at the Bernabeu, one senses Madrid will plant one foot in the final of the Champions League once again. But how often has Haaland strung two goalless performances together this season? It feels likely the Norway international will be bristling at his weekend without hitting the net. His righteous anger might be just the ingredient needed to take City to their second Champions League final.

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