The mind-boggling projections speak volumes: Erling Haaland would finish the Premier League season on 60 goals if he maintains his current strike-rate and game time – and would extend that to 64 if he played every minute.
If Haaland sustains those metrics and reaches finals in all club competitions, the 22-year-old would register 84 goals this term – or 91 if he was never hooked off. That spells trouble for upcoming visitors Manchester United.
To compound matters, when asked which opponent he was most looking forward to facing in England after being unveiled to fans back in July, the Norway international singled out City’s rivals: “I don’t want to say in words, but… Manchester United.”
Haaland, who scored an outrageous winner against former club Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League earlier this month, and kept up his untarnished streak of scoring or assisting at least once in every league game this term during a 3-0 win at Wolves three days later.
So how does Haaland score his goals and how, or can, Manchester United stop him?
The 22-year-old has netted 11 goals from just seven Premier League games, and has also been substituted early in all but three of those to miss 55 minutes – netting back-to-back hat-tricks during wins over Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest at the Etihad.
Those numbers produce a staggering league ratio of 1.72 goals per 90 minutes – more potent than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues this season to have played in excess of 126 minutes.
The chart below plots goals and expected-goal returns for all Premier League players this season and presents the scale of the striker’s early form – soaring clear in both categories.
Several forwards from opposition teams are in consistent form, most notably Harry Kane, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ivan Toney – but Haaland is doubling, and humbling, those figures.
Some critics might claim that any established forward would convert bags of goals in Pep Guardiola’s side, based on the sheer quantity of clear-cut chances they create.
However, the Norwegian has also nearly doubled his xG returns, netting almost five goals more than the 6.5 expected from chances presented to him – another league-topping ratio.
Additionally, Haaland has fired a league-high 17 shots on target, which means his current goal haul equates to one goal from every 1.5 shots on target – underlining the clinical finishing to date.
Key to stopping Haaland?
The shot map below highlights City’s new No 9 has converted six of his haul from poaching opportunities inside the six-yard box, with another four coming from between the six- and 18-yard lines – while all goals were fired from the central third of the opposition box.
In terms of shot placement, Haaland has an almost perfect conversion rate when firing to the left side of the goal – netting six of seven shots on target – and scores with around half of his attempts in the centre of the goal and to the right.
United will be aware of Haaland’s greatest threat down the left-of-centre channel. Raphael Varane started as the right-sided centre-back against Arsenal, but both central defenders will be looking to avoid being bamboozled by his deft movement inside the six-yard box and looking to snuff out passes from both sides to City’s target man.
Additionally, Haaland also possesses immense aerial power and City could well look to exploit Lisandro Martinez’s smaller stature in this area – although the Argentine has impressed to date, displaying impressive leaping power and solid aerial protection.
Haaland registered his only league assist so far this term in the 4-0 win over Bournemouth with his first touch of the game, so, unlike traditional City players, Haaland typically fires on sight – but usually from advantageous positions.
However, the 22-year-old averages far fewer touches, dribbles and final-third passes than other forwards – a deficiency City and most clubs would gladly trade for his prolific strike-rate.
Haaland clocked merely eight touches against the Cherries and currently averages at 14.2 touches per goal – which equates to scoring a goal in nine per cent of his overall actions on the ball.
The graphic below suggests the Norwegian has tracked back less frequently since the Newcastle game, registering merely seven touches in his own half from the last three league outings combined.
In terms of passing, Haaland tends to drift and combine with team-mates across the width of the penalty box, with a slightly higher concentration of exchanges down left-of-centre areas – while creating his most potent chances from central areas just outside the box.
Have City changed to accommodate Haaland?
Unlike Haaland’s explosive start at the Etihad, City have traditionally started seasons slowly and this season is no exception after dropping points at Newcastle and Villa Park but there are signs Guardiola’s side have tweaked their style slightly.
The graphic below shows how Haaland averages in a similar position to the false nine last term, although this is based on his limited touches, and suggests Kevin De Bruyne is pushing slightly higher this term, while almost all other outfield players have retreated – albeit marginally.
In terms of raw attacking numbers, City have taken their goals-per-game ratio to new heights – currently averaging at 3.3 per game, nearly one goal more than last campaign.
However, almost all other key metrics are down: expected goals and shots on target – which emphasises how Haaland’s prolific form has propped up dips in build-up play.
Interestingly, City are also firing almost an identical number of crosses per game as last season, in addition to matching their attempted through-balls – two metrics many might expect to increase, to accommodate and serve Haaland.
The striker’s current goal rate sets him on course to finish the season on 64 league goals – if he were to play every minute of normal time. Unlikely… but, United will be looking to dent that ratio by keeping the Norwegian quiet on Sunday and, perhaps, finally ending his perfect run of recording at least one goal involvement in every league start.
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“There’s things happening this season that are not smooth but I anticipate Manchester City will win this league, and they could win it comfortably.
“Erling Haaland is… it just looks a bit unfair. I remember when I watched James Bond films when I was younger and there was the character Jaws, who was about 7ft 2in. He used to just pick people up and chuck them on the floor, and it’s a little bit like that when you watch Haaland against strong centre-backs. You think, ‘wow, he’s just unplayable – how do you even cope with him in the box?’.
“The one thing I would say is Haaland’s career at City will probably prolong his overall career, because he’s just standing there. The way Manchester City play, with that possession that they keep, you never really see him stretching teams, other than when they get one or two in front.
“I just have to say that I’m massively impressed with him. It’s the first time we’ve signed what I believe to be one of the top two or three players in the world for the future. Ordinarily, those players go to Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid or Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo, when he became the best player in the world here [at Manchester United] or maybe Thierry Henry at Arsenal, they didn’t sign as prospects to be the best player in the world, they just developed to being that when they were here.
“But this player – you fully anticipate he’s going to go on and win Ballon d’Ors and be the best player in the world. That’s exciting – that’s not happened for quite a while in the Premier League.”