Football News

Pep Guardiola backs Erling Haaland after ‘League Two’ jibe

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:30, 3 April 2024

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has dismissed Roy Keane’s criticism of Erling Haaland following their goalless draw with Arsenal.

The defending Premier League champions lost ground on Liverpool, leading this season’s title race with nine matches remaining. City are three points behind Jurgen Klopp’s men, with the Gunners sandwiched in between, and they’re two back on the Reds.

Haaland often cut a lonely figure as Gabriel and William Saliba shepherd the Norwegian marksman well. City’s number nine was restricted to four shots, none on target. He also had 23 ball touches, the fewest made by anyone starting the game. Rico Lewis (45) and Jack Grealish (25) had more off the bench.

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He’d register one goal in four meetings against Liverpool and Arsenal, with this latest performance earning former Manchester United skipper Keane’s ire.

“The levels of his general play is so poor, and not just today. His general play for such a player, it is so poor, I think he has to improve that, he’s almost like a League Two player,” he said as a pundit on Sky Sports after the game.

Haaland remains in control to win back-to-back Premier League Golden Boots, and his manager wasn’t too fond of Keane’s analysis.

“I don’t agree with him, absolutely not,” he said. “He’s the best striker in the world. “He helped us win last season and the reason why we didn’t create many answers from Erling is we need more presence in the final third with more people.

“We played an exceptional game, I reviewed the game against Arsenal but we just missed more people in the final third. The quality and different skillset we have, Haaland is exceptional.”

The former Borussia Dortmund striker scored 27 goals in his first 24 appearances in last season’s Premier League. He’s currently on 18, though he’s missed five games compared to one before matchday 25 the previous term.

Looking further into the stats, one may think Haaland isn’t performing as badly, given his output. Sure, his goals per 90 of 0.8 are well below last season’s average, but Haaland is registering 1.97 shots on target per 90 this season compared to 1.95 for the 2022/23 season.

His expected goals per 90 are presently better (0.95 compared to 0.93). However, his presence in the opposition penalty area raises eyebrows; so far, he’s averaging 6.57 touches per 90, down from 7.36 last season, which is already a low return.

“Some actions he missed, sometimes it’s the managers, sometimes the opponent is really good, there are many many reasons,” Guardiola added.

“In football there is not just one reason, sometimes where you have success or you don’t have success, there are many reasons, it’s football, it’s a team sport.”

Haaland is currently on a two-game drought. He’s never gone three consecutive Premier League matches without scoring. Next up is a visit from Aston Villa, a team Haaland has faced on three occasions before, registering one goal, which came on the road last season.