False start by Haaland… but write off £51m Erling at your peril

False start by Haaland! Virgil van Dijk wins round one of this clash of the titans as Liverpool come out on top in the Community Shield… but Anfield fans should write off £51m Erling at their peril

  • It was a frustrating afternoon for Erling Haaland as Liverpool beat Man City 3-1
  • The £51m star struggled to take his chances in City’s Community Shield defeat 
  • Meanwhile, Liverpool arrival Darwin Nunez impressed with a goal off the bench
  • He may not have impressed – but write off the ex-Dortmund star at your peril

As first assignments go, Erling Haaland could not have asked for anything tougher – especially for someone not yet fully match fit. Go and stand on Virgil van Dijk; see what shakes.

Haaland did not train during his opening week as a City player earlier this month, instead undergoing individual work at the club’s training base. It was only in Houston, on the first stop of a short two-game pre-season tour, that the £51million brute of a striker began interacting with his new teammates on the grass.

But Pep Guardiola could not hold him back yesterday, a curtain raiser both of this country’s true behemoths would rather have emerged victorious from than not, if only to strike an early blow over their closest rivals than actually lifting the silver shield on offer.

Erling Haaland had a frustrating afternoon at the King Power as Man City lost 3-1 to Liverpool

Van Dijk against Haaland is something we should rather enjoy this season and for a few more after that. Two masters somewhere close to the top of their respective games, the obvious physicality possessed by both matched with poise and guile. This might have only been a glorified friendly but with a few of the individual battles it is often more than that.

And Van Dijk will know he was in a game at the King Power Stadium. Haaland can drift in and out of matches, much in the same way as the man he replaced, Sergio Aguero, yet the lingering threat is never far from the surface. Premier League defences will find that out to their cost in the coming months.

‘He fought a lot and made the movements,’ Guardiola said. ‘It is good for him to see the reality in a new country and a new league but he was there. He didn’t score. He has incredible quality and he will do it.’

The £51m arrival missed an absolute sitter from close range for Man City in the final stages 

Haaland largely did what you expected of him on debut. Well, everything except score. He powered Andrew Robertson off the ball to force Adrian into a smart save when it felt the Liverpool left back was in very little danger. He came and linked play when City managed to get him involved – but that was not nearly enough, particularly before half-time.

Haaland ended the evening with 16 touches – Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan recorded 18 as second-half substitutes by comparison – and that figure will likely triple once City find their groove with a new target to hit. Yet Haaland completed two key passes and if he is doing that with just 16 touches then it does not bode badly at all. Guardiola will know that. For context, only De Bruyne with four and Mohamed Salah three, played more throughout the final.

City did need to play up to him more often, just as Liverpool did when Darwin Nunez entered the fray to win a penalty and then score. That sort of directness would see Kevin De Bruyne thriving in behind and it was threatened in brief spells.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s new star striker Darwin Nunez impressed with a goal in added time

De Bruyne will push as far forward as he did do last season, when they operated without a real recognised striker, and the Belgian should really be fancying a few more than his 19 goals in all competitions recorded last term.

Haaland’s role in this team is not merely to plunder all himself, his occupying of defenders will allow the talisman more space. Haaland did drop off on occasion, searching for the ball, yet not as much as during his first appearance against Bayern Munich in Green Bay last week, when Guardiola could be seen shouting for the No 9 to remain higher. Yesterday seemed more about City not quite playing to his obvious strengths consistently.

The 22-year-old will feel one of his chances ought to have bulged the net, however. One stood out above the rest earlier in the piece, a cross from the left-hand side begging to be dealt with. Haaland had cleverly broken free of Liverpool’s back four and appeared all set to nod home his first competitive goal since leaving Borussia Dortmund for the club he has followed since childhood.

Virgil van Dijk kept the star striker relatively quiet in the first of many battles between the pair

He did not go with his head, though. Haaland instead threw a left leg at the cross, the opportunity passed up. Haaland has been working on scoring a variety of different goals and that was the perfect moment to show that off. Someone of his frame can extend limbs in a way others cannot comprehend but you suspect if one of those arrives at West Ham next week, he will be planting a forehead on it.

Then another, in stoppage time, was uncharacteristically passed up. Adrian could only palm Phil Foden’s shot into Haaland’s path, yet the Norway international somehow rebounded up on to Liverpool’s bar and over. The shield was gone by that point, Jurgen Klopp’s side 3-1 up. Haaland did find the net, expertly steering in, only for the linesman to have flagged a goal kick earlier in the move.

Is Guardiola worried about the misses? ‘No, no, no,’ he sighed. ‘He has an incredible quality and he will do it. He has an incredible sense. When Erling Haaland scored in the States everyone talked about how impressive he was. He was there and had the chances – nothing changes. He’s strong. Another time he will put it in the net. It’s football.

‘I am absolutely not concerned. The reality is we have two or three months [of matches] ahead of us. He is going to help us.’

Haaland is set to face West Ham in his first Premier League match of the season next Sunday

Guardiola will be encouraged that Haaland did manage to finish the 90 minutes, because City supporters had only watched him for less than a half. 

That was explosive, a goal within 12 minutes against Bayern, but there is a realisation that this might take a few weeks for him to properly excel at full throttle and truly in tune with those around him.

And City know that when he does, it might well be fairly spectacular. ‘When this kind of player arrives in your team you’re very excited,’ Rodri said. ‘They’re unique, incredible help. They’re killers. He’s going to give us different things in the sense of a pure No.9, a pure striker. I think he’s going to give us what we need.’

He will – just not on Saturday.

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