Haaland ‘probably the difference’ in title race

Manchester City striker Erling Haaland said “it is good to be back” after he scored to help his side to victory against Nottingham Forest.

The Norwegian striker missed City’s midweek success at Brighton in the league and the FA Cup semi-final win against Chelsea last week because of a muscle injury.

But when he calmly took the ball around a defender and slotted into the left corner nine minutes after coming on as a substitute at the City Ground on Sunday, nerves were settled and the 2-0 win was soon sealed after what had been an uncomfortable afternoon for last year’s Treble winners.

Victory meant City returned to being one point behind Premier League leaders Arsenal with a game in hand.

City have been without their talisman forward for a number of games this term and Haaland has struggled at times to find the scoring consistency that in 2022-23 saw him break the record for the most Premier League goals scored in a season – with 36 in 35 appearances.

But could Haaland “be the difference” as City push for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premier League title?

Haaland has faced criticism this season for his ability on the ball away from scoring goals, with former Manchester United captain Roy Keane saying he could appear at times “almost like a League Two player”.

But Haaland’s instinct and potency in front of goal – alongside the quality and quantity of chances coming his way – means he is still the Premier League’s top scorer with 21 goals.

“Haaland is a goalscorer, simple as that,” said former Newcastle, Tottenham and England winger Chris Waddle on BBC Radio 5 Live.

“He isn’t known for his link-up play, dribbling or skills – he is a goalscorer and that is what he is good at.

“It was a good finish and he passed it into the bottom corner – with him coming back he will probably be the difference.”

Previous seasons teach us that City know what to do when it gets to crunch time in a title race and their performance at Forest was evidence of that.

They were second best for much of the game and had to grind it out.

Yet should they take advantage of their game in hand and win their remaining matches, they will find themselves with another trophy in the cabinet.

Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards said on Sky Sports: “Haaland made a difference. His all-round play was excellent.

“There will be times when you’re not at your best, but at the key moments they get the job done and that is exactly what City did.”

Media caption,
Manchester City were “lucky” in a “difficult” win at Forest, said Pep Guardiola

City have, at times, looked tired amid a gruelling schedule which has seen them go for another Treble – a target now beyond them after their Champions League quarter-final exit to Real Madrid.

Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne asked to be substituted against Madrid in the second leg at Etihad Stadium.

Haaland has perhaps not had the service he would have liked, with De Bruyne also missing a large chunk of the season through injury.

But the Belgian’s sublime pass for Haaland on Sunday means he has assisted him 11 times in the top flight since the beginning of the last campaign – at least three more than any other player has to a single team-mate in that time.

City boss Pep Guardiola said it was “important” to have Haaland back in the side as last season’s champions enter the final phase of this term with four league games remaining.

“Kevin found him and it was a really good finish,” Guardiola said of Haaland’s goal. “He was not ready for 90 minutes, but it was good for him to be back.”

Haaland told Sky Sports: “It’s an important win, it does not matter how we do it, and it is good to be back.

“We knew it was going to be a fight, and the pitch was not the easiest to play on but we cannot complain. It is about winning and that is exactly what we did.”


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