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Erling Braut Haaland

Borussia Dortmund, 2020–

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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 remarkable form since his €20m transfer from Red Bull Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund has even furthered his reputation as 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 Salzburg and, 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 among Europe’s finest strikers. “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 possesses all of the attributes required to develop into the complete striker. His physical prowess encourages him to hold up possession and invite others into play, and he demonstrates the necessary control needed to protect it and then release an advancing teammate.

Those physical abilities make him an aerial threat when attacking crosses, and a useful outlet in a team that sometimes attacks via direct balls forward. He most commonly operates as a central attacker, when he positions himself in between the opposing central defenders before making runs in behind and stretching that defence, but he is similarly comfortable withdrawing to offer support in midfield, whether in central territory or out wide.

It is the quality of his movement, however, that represents his greatest strength. Whether moving into a deeper position, holding up play (below) or advancing beyond an opposing defence, it is how quickly he moves from one to the other that makes him so effective.

It is common to see strikers labour in making a second run if they have been ignored after a sprint, but that isn’t the case with Haaland. He will regularly make his first sprint, not receive possession, and almost immediately again sprint to offer support elsewhere. Such constant movement consistently tests his opponents’ concentration and stamina.

Those movements in the final third (below), particularly inside the penalty area, can also be cunning. Consistently adjusting his position as the ball moves, Haaland can be seen drifting away from play as often as he makes movements towards it or remains stationary.

His direct opponents therefore not only have to monitor him, but monitor their defensive shape and the whereabouts of the ball. Haaland’s awareness of that contributes to him scanning what is unfolding, subtly changing his position to test those opponents, and examining whether or not there are spaces he’ll be able to exploit.

Should he choose to make an attacking run, Haaland will continue to make those small adjustments in an increased effort to unsettle and mislead his opponent. Any attempted run will rarely be in a straight line from a standing position and towards the ball – it will instead involve feints and movements towards and then away from the ball, or away from and then towards it, essentially to create the spaces his teammate requires to feed him. Movements away from the ball also create extra time and space that is required to adjust his position to meet a ball that comes his way – and a significant number of his goals owe to those movements.

Haaland favours shooting from the right or from the edge of the area. 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. His finishing is unquestionably a further strength. He can shoot with both feet – low, and accurately – and also rarely overplays when he is inside the area, demonstrating the conviction that has so far brought him success.

Role at Borussia Dortmund
Where at Salzburg and under their head coach Jesse Marsch, Haaland most regularly featured in a 4-4-2, at Dortmund he largely operates as the central attacker in the 3-4-3 favoured by Lucien Favre (above). Their front three most commonly adopt narrow positions to encourage their wing-backs to advance and to increase the numbers available in central positions, offering not only combinations in those positions, but two-on-ones out wide and in the half-spaces.

It is in those half-spaces that so many of Dortmund’s goals are created; when they are in those positions, Haaland poses his greatest threat. When possession is advanced into those positions and is complemented by a wide attacker or wing-back making a penetrative run, the striker capitalises on the test that that poses of his opposing defenders to escape his marker and get into position to finish.

Erling Braut Haaland

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