Wednesday’s big stories
Haaland represents a huge risk for Guardiola
Erling Haaland's goalscoring record indicates that he is a near-guarantee of goals. Since his debut, he has scored 154 in 199 games. And, yet, his signing constitutes a sizable risk for Manchester City and, most notably, Pep Guardiola.
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The reason is two-fold. Firstly, and most crucially, for his acquisition to be deemed a true success, City must win the Champions League. Secondly, stylistically, he does not fit this Manchester City team in its current possession-first guise.
The Catalan has built his managerial career and success on ball possession. It has served him well. He has won everything - but last won Europe's premier trophy in 2011.
Haaland, as a truly elite goalscorer, has shown a laser-like focus on hitting the back of the net, and little interest in playmaking. That is fine as, to state the obvious, he is a striker, whose primary job is to score goals. However, Guardiola has never seen that role's sole purpose as just that. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sergio Aguero provide evidence of this fact.
So, why sign Haaland?
It looks like City are about to win the league for the fourth time in five years, but have, by their standards, struggled in cup competitions. They reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and FA Cup, and the fourth round of the League Cup. Thus, the following conclusion can be drawn: over the course of the season, City's pure weight of talent pays dividends in the league.
Guardiola's cabal of midfield passers bludgeons a league into submission, but cup competitions - read the Champions League - are slightly different. One game of missed gilt-edged chances - say against Real Madrid in a first-leg semi-final at the Etihad - can - and this season did - prove fatal to City's, and, more pertinently, Guardiola's hopes of finally getting their hands on that Champions League trophy.
And, thus, like Sir Alex Ferguson did before him with Juan Sebastian Veron, Guardiola has bet the house on a player who is not necessarily suited to his style of play, but whose excellence could see City extend their domestic dominance to Europe.
However, for this to happen either City - read Guardiola - or Haaland need to adapt. It represents a huge risk.
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Give the Ballon d'Or to the excellent, incomparable Sadio Mane
City, as stated above, will more than likely make it four league wins in five seasons. And, yet, if they don't, Sadio Mane will have played a central and crucial role in wrestling that title from the Etihad club.
He was at it again on Tuesday night, craning his head back to arrow a Luis Diaz centre past Emi Martinez in Aston Villa's goal to secure the comeback 2-1 win that draws them level with Manchester City at the top of the table having played a game more.
Mane has been nothing short of inspirational since he helped guide Senegal to Africa Cup of Nations success in February. And come May 28 Mane could have won the Africa Cup of Nations, the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Premier League and the Champions League.
Being in that position in May, and having contributed to it so vastly, makes Mane the standout candidate for the Ballon d'Or this.
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Manchester United finally listen to Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho said the below in 2019 after taking Manchester United to second in the Premier League the previous season.
"If I tell you, for example, that I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, 'this guy is crazy,'" Mourinho said.
"I keep saying this because people don't know what is going on behind the scenes."
It was a classic from the Mourinho genre. It seemed hyperbole then, and a deflection of his own shortcomings. And, yet, perhaps the Portuguese was right - not necessarily about it being one of the best jobs of his career; winning the Champions League with Porto, or the treble with Inter or conceding barely a goal with Chelsea in their first title-winning season under the Portuguese would constitute that.
However, there have been movements behind the scenes at United ahead of the appointment of Erik ten Hag that suggest an admission that something was in fact "going on behind the scenes".
The club’s chief strategy officer, Hemen Tseayo, left the club on Tuesday, and, in doing so, joined Matt Judge, director of football negotiations, Jim Lawlor, chief scout, and Marcel Bout, head of global scouting in leaving the backroom structure as new CEO Richard Arnold looks to stamp his authority on the club.
A successful club needs a streamlined, well-oiled operation at the boardroom level. Manchester City have it, Liverpool have it and so too do, to a lesser extent, Real Madrid. PSG and United do not while the jury is still out on Barcelona given their recent upheaval.
If United can get the behind-the-scenes stuff right, then they will once again become a force to be reckoned with.
IN THE CHANNELS
Decent patter here from Danny Welbeck.
A serious selection of Premier League football. Leeds v Chelsea, Watford v Everton and Wolves v Man City.
Andi Thomas will be here tomorrow to pick through that.
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