Back in the 1990’s Manchester United were arguably the most consistently dominant side in Europe over the course of the decade. Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson made a habit of building and developing sides to change and evolve in order to stay on top. Throughout this period one of the best and arguably underrated players in the United squad was the Norwegian forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Now the forward is a coach in his own right currently in charge of Norwegian side Molde and he is currently coaching a young forward who is heavily linked to following his footsteps and moving to Manchester, the 18 year old Erling Braut Haland. If the name is familiar to those that remember the game in the 90’s then he is the son of the former Manchester City player Alf-Inge Haland. Unlike his father however Erling is a forward full of power and pace that is perhaps the very prototype of the modern forward.
Manchester United are not the only side to be strongly linked to the forward with teams as disparate as Juventus, Leeds United and the Red Bull clubs all being heavily credited with interest in the forward.
In terms of his appearance and physical build Haland is something of a throwback with his powerful build resembling an old fashioned centre forward. That illusion however is shattered when Haland receives the ball to his feet and showcases his control and technical ability. He excels at taking the ball in to his body and then pushing it past the closest defender, a movement that makes you think he has lost control of the ball before he powers past the defensive player and moves in to space. He is equally aggressive out of possession looking to constantly move to pressure the man in possession and he is intelligent in the way that he cuts off available passing lanes to win the ball back.
Let’s look at a few examples of his strengths.
Erling Haland is equally comfortable playing as part of a front two or as a lone forward but in either role his aggressive playing style lends itself well to a high pressing system. There are occasions where he is obviously instructed to sit in a more passive defensive block but even then he will look to move laterally across the field in order to cut obvious passing lanes to prevent the opposition from playing past his line of pressure comfortably.
Normally we see Haland move to press and close down the man in possession often chasing the ball aggressively in order to force the opponent to make an error.
Here we see Haland pressing as the lone striker for Molde. The opposition player in possession has two passing options open to him with one across to the other central defender and one to the screening midfielder. Haland is positioned to cover the passing lane across to the second central defender with his run and pressing movement angled to prevent the pass across.
The defender in possession of the ball is risk-averse and instead of splitting the two Molde players to play into the midfield he looks to play back to his goalkeeper to escape the press.
Without losing a beat Haland steps up his press and angles his run at the goalkeeper forcing him to rush his clearance and play the ball straight out of bounds thus winning the ball back for his side.
Here we see Haland working as the lone striker for the Norwegian U19 national team although this time in conjunction with his left-sided attacker. Initially, Haland is moving across to cover the lateral pass across the field. The man in possession of the ball reads this and instead passes back to his goalkeeper.
Haland simply continues his run but angles his press towards the goalkeeper so that his cover shadow is covering the centre-half. This prevents the goalkeeper from bypassing the press with a simple pass back the way it came.
As Haland closes the space, showing acceleration that you may not expect from a player of his size, the keeper again puts the ball straight out of play handing possession of the ball back to Norway.
Running with the ball
We have already seen that Haland is a strong runner out of possession but he is equally effective when running with the ball at his feet. His pace and power combined with excellent technical quality make him exceptionally difficult to stop when he is in full flight with the ball at his feet.
This ability to carry the ball forward in central areas is especially disruptive given that he tends to be running against defenders and in beating a man in these areas you give yourself a genuine chance to get a shot away at goal. When receiving the ball in central areas Haland uses his body well to shield the ball from defenders and is good at taking the ball on his back foot whether that is his left or right before manipulating it into space to run away from the defensive player.
Here we see Haland again playing for his national team at youth level this time against a strong German side.
With Norway looking to quickly transition from defence to attack Haland leads the attacking transition in the central areas. As he collects the ball he has supporting runs to the left and to the right but he also has the confidence to attack and commit the defenders.
He isolates and beats the nearest defensive player before bursting past the covering player to bear down on the goalkeeper in a 1v1 situation. This ability to attack and commit defensive player makes him a genuine problem for defensive players to handle.
This time we see Haland again in club action for Molde. As he takes possession of the ball he is in a tight area with two defensive players in close proximity. He is smart enough to identify this and turn away from the defensive players into space.
From here the first thought from Haland again is to attack and isolate the defensive players ahead of him. This time he drives down the centre on the left of the central defensive player aware of the movement of his left winger who is dragging his defensive player out of the covering position.
As soon as he beats the first defender and looks to commit the second he is smart enough to unload the ball to the left winger in a supporting position before continuing his run into the centre looking for a cutback or rebound opportunity.
Movement in the penalty area
Whilst Haland is already excellent in the attacking transition and in the defensive phase it is no secret that a truly top striker earns his wages in and around the penalty area. Once again Haland does not disappoint in this area.
It is perhaps unsurprising given his physical profile but Haland is a genuine threat in the air with his ability to attack high balls making him difficult to mark tightly in the area with the ball out in wide areas.
Here you can see an example of the type of movement that you can expect to see from Haland when the ball is crossed in from out in the wide areas. The movement itself is something that is taught to all strikers at a certain point in their technical and tactical development with the first movement being away from the ball to unbalance the defensive player before he bursts towards the ball to meet the cross in the central area.
Haland has excellent acceleration over short distances allowing him to burst past the defensive player to give himself space and time.
Here we see Haland working on the edge of the penalty area. As the ball is shifted centrally into the forward he has an opposition player in close attendance. It is not unusual for young forwards in this situation to become impatient and snatch at the opportunity
Haland, however, has great instincts and patience in and around the penalty area. Instead of moving towards the ball with the defensive player ahead of him he feints and allows the ball to run across his body, in doing so he is trusting his own ability to take the ball on his left foot when the opportunity presents itself.
In this instance when space opens up Haland is able to take the shot on his left but he hits the bar.
It is a matter or when rather than if Erling Braut Haland makes the move from Molde to a major European side. With any luck he will be well advised and he will take his time to identify the correct opportunity with a club that will allow him to continue to develop as he still has a lot of room for growth.
It has been some time since Norway have been relevant on the international stage but with Haland leading the line for the new generation that may well be about to change.