Pep Guardiola’s tactics have allowed Manchester City to win the Premier League again. It’s their fourth win in five seasons. This is particularly impressive considering the quality of the EPL. But, before clicking the title, the club announced a new signing. Erling Haaland, arguably the greatest target man in the world is joining the club.
Will this naturally only improve Manchester City? Is Pep Guardiola finally altering his tactics and playing with a lone striker? And, is Erling Haaland the fantasy football player that you won’t want to miss? Let’s take a look at the evidence supporting each of these theories.
Pep Guardiola’s strikerless tactics
Pep Guardiola is rightfully considered one of the best football managers of all time. Few doubt this. It’s not merely his collection of medals that is responsible for this. Guardiola has revolutionized football tactics. He has built teams that suit his style of play, one built around possession, pressing, and a reinterpretation of space on the pitch.
In 2022, Pep Guardiola’s tactics rarely included a classic number 9, a full-out box striker. Instead, he opted for a 4-3-3 formation. More often than not, pundits referred to it as a 4-6-0. It was the formation of the two free eights, the overlapping wing-backs, and of extreme fluidity.
What is Erling Haaland’s role and position?
Erling Haaland made a name for himself as one of the most consistent goalscorers in European football. His most famous attributes are his strength, his finishing, and his ability to control the ball in tight spaces. He is a proper advanced forward.
Haaland’s passing abilities however are not his strong point. Neither is his defensive contribution. This would seem to make his style at odds with Guardiola’s tactical tenets. Will Manchester City adapt to suit their new star signing?
Making Haaland fit Guardiola’s tactics
First of all, what does Erling Haaland bring to any team he joins? Goals, and lots of them. The Norwegian’s xG (expected goals) put him in a 2% bracket of the world’s best strikers. Most of his touches are inside the opposition’s penalty box. Feed him passes in the box, and he will likely score.
But, there’s more. Haaland is good at pressing, albeit in a very small pocket. He has 1.45 clearances per game, usually inside the opposition’s half. He also provides a high number of assists, 0.26 xA (expected assists). Almost all of them happen inside the opposition’s box though. Haaland is rarely outside it and combining with midfielders.
Guardiola’s tactics may change to suit Haaland. Manchester City could adopt a more direct passing approach. This would mean less possession and a higher need for a strong defensive cover. But, it could also mean scoring more goals in decisive moments. Perhaps, this would lessen the burden on the Champions League.
This would mean that Man City’s pace might also change. Quick transitions may become part of the norm. And, the role of the free eights and overlapping full-backs might diminish. This does not mean, however, that player like Kevin de Bruyne, or Kyle Walker will become obsolete. Rather, it will mean that their role becomes to feed crosses into the box as quickly as possible.
Guardiola might limit attacks down wide. Instead, build-up play could happen in more central areas. It’s unlikely that the formation will be drastically altered. Instead of a 4-3-3, City could simply switch to a 4-3-2-1 with Haaland as the main striker.
Is change a recipe for success for Pep Guardiola?
If there is anything that Pep Guardiola hates and fears it’s stagnation. After all, this is a manager that left FC Barcelona and Bayern Munchen just after winning major trophies with each side. He knows that after a number of years, players typically are less hungry for major success.
Guardiola also likes to take on player development as a personal project. Kevin de Bruyne, Joao Cancelo, and Oleksandr Zinchenko are better players because of him. Haaland is only 21-years old. If Guardiola has read him well, he can still improve the striker.
Finally, Manchester City is adapting to its own success. Each year, Guardiola’s tactics have changed slightly. Fernandinho, Kun Aguero, and Kyle Walker were all central parts of the style at one time. Perhaps, in the 2022/23 season, it’s time for Erling Haaland to be the focus.
And, after all, what if this all doesn’t work out? Well, perhaps, Pep Guardiola can lead back on the squad and tactics he has already developed. They’ve won four Premier League trophies in five after all.