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Erling Braut Haaland

Red Bull Salzburg, 2019-Present

Profile
Already drawing comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Braut Haaland has, largely owing to a fine impact in the Champions League, established himself as one of the most promising strikers in Europe. His 18 goals in 16 appearances for Red Bull Salzburg so far in 2019/20 include three hat-tricks, one of which came in club football’s premier competition. It has furthered the reputation of the 6ft 4ins striker who made his senior debut aged 15 and was given the nickname ‘Manchild’.

Molde’s manager when they recruited Haaland from Bryne in January 2017 was none other than Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After two years there, the son of former Premier League midfielder Alf Inge then joined Red Bull Salzburg despite interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

Given Sadio Mané and Naby Keïta are among those to have excelled at the Austrian club before earning transfers to bigger clubs, it is little surprise that Haaland is regularly credited with being a transfer target for United, Liverpool, Real Madrid and more. “I had many role models and looked up to many football players, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the greatest of them all,” Haaland once said. “The way he got so good, the way he plays – besides, he’s Scandinavian, so he has to be followed by another one.”

Tactical analysis
Haaland is a particularly powerful striker who offers the versatility to provide different threats in the final third. His height and muscular build encourages runners from deeper positions to advance and combine with him, even if his desire to score means that he often overlooks returning possession to instead carry it forwards.

Those aggressive drives can feature a lack of control, but his power and surprising speed ensures that they are often effective. Haaland seeks to roll his opposing defender where possible; he also often draws central defenders towards him, creating the necessary space for him to spin and drive into – not unlike Romelu Lukaku.

When Haaland cannot be directly accessed, he looks to withdraw and then add a second movement through runs away from the ball to create spaces in behind, where he can then be played in (above). He also targets those spaces in behind if his strike partner is instead the one to withdraw – most commonly across a defensive line and therefore to receive wide, although within the penalty area.

Those movements offer two significant options of attack. Should Haaland move from right to left he supports by providing low deliveries – the quality of which are improving – across goal (below).

If travelling in the opposite direction, he shoots on goal from the right or from the edge of the area (below). The speed with which he shoots rarely offers defenders time to press and block, and the quality of his shooting is such that he consistently connects well with the ball.

It may even be that his finishing is his greatest strength, because he can shoot with both feet – low, and accurately – and also offers an aerial threat. He also rarely overplays when he is inside the area, demonstrating the conviction that has so far brought him success.

Tactical analysis
That the Salzburg head coach Jesse Marsch prefers to organise his team into a 4-4-2 regularly reduces the defensive overload with which Haaland might be confronted if starting as a lone forward. The system also means that the striker is offered the freedom to move across the penalty area, regardless of whether he is playing alongside Patson Daka or Hwang Hee-chan.

Both potential partners offer height and movement in front of him, but when Hwang advances as the highest point of their attacks, he and Haaland combine closely within central areas. The latter can drive forward (below) and also has the option of a quick exchange of possession, which can be particularly effective when he is under pressure. Hwang essentially prioritises combinations, instead of penetrating with direct movements.

It is Daka who provides more penetrative support around the Norwegian. If he is the most advanced, Daka continues to move in behind a defensive line (below), often increasing the distance between the two opposing central defenders.

Though that means Haaland can no longer combine at close range, he can instead attack a space that has been created in central territory, which complements his attempts to roll and spin defenders. Daka’s presence can also therefore lead to two-on-ones against an opposing defender, and more of the shooting opportunities Haaland relishes.

“We saw him when he came to Molde under Solskjær and thought that this was a guy who could go far,” said one-time Premier League and Norway striker Jan Age Fjørtoft. “This is a guy desperate to score goals; he has that speed and strength. He’s so clear in what he wants.”

Optimism surrounding Haaland’s abilities, and those of Real Sociedad’s Martin Odegaard, is even such that, even though qualification for Euro 2020 is unlikely, there is a growing belief that Norway will soon prove capable of reaching a first major tournament since Euro 2000 – when Solskjær, Thomas Myhre and Henning Berg were then among their leading figures (below).

Erling Braut Haaland

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