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How Do You Stop Man City’s Erling Haaland? You Don’t.


MANCHESTER, England — Pellegrino Matarazzo starts with the bad news. In theory, he ought to be in possession of what often is the most precious single piece of information in world soccer. Twice in his time because the coach of VfB Stuttgart, Matarazzo has faced a team that featured Erling Haaland. And twice, he has managed to shut him down.

Haaland was a part of the Borussia Dortmund team that visited Stuttgart in April 2021. He was on a hot streak then, in the midst of a run that may see him rating 20 goals in his final 19 games of the season. He didn’t, though, rating against Matarazzo’s Stuttgart.

A yr later, Haaland arrived on the town again. The following week, he would rating twice against Wolfsburg. Two weeks after that, he would manage three against Bochum. But he left Stuttgart empty-handed again, Dortmund’s glinting blade dulled.

From the skin, then, it might sound as if Matarazzo has come closer than just about anyone else to finding the answer to the unique set of problems posed by Haaland. He’s, in spite of everything, considered one of only a handful of managers during the last couple of years to have encountered the Norwegian striker greater than once and are available away unscathed.

And yet the 44-year-old Matarazzo — a native of Wayne, N.J., but ensconced for therefore long in German soccer that he apologized greater than once for his English letting him down — doesn’t present himself because the guardian of some precious secret. He doesn’t try and sugarcoat the reality. He rejects, in some ways, the very premise of the query. There’s, he said, no way of stopping Erling Haaland.

That just isn’t, in fact, what the Premier League wants to listen to. The 22-year-old Haaland’s form since leaving Dortmund for Manchester City this summer has been fearsome. Haaland played 4 club games in September, and scored five goals. He already has 14 for his recent team. In nine games.

He scored twice on his league debut, against West Ham United. (“Outstanding,” David Moyes, the West Ham coach, said.) By the top of August, he had scored nine goals, six of them in back-to-back hat-tricks against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest. (“He’s a goal scorer, that’s obviously,” Patrick Vieira, the Palace coach, said.)

This weekend, it’s the turn of Erik ten Hag and Manchester United to try to search out a technique to subdue him. Ten Hag does, at the very least, have some experience: His Ajax team beat Dortmund, and Haaland, within the Champions League last season and won, 4-0. Lisandro Martínez, now installed in defense at Old Trafford, was credited with nullifying the Norwegian that night.

Knowing what’s coming from Haaland and finding a technique to stop it, though, are two very various things. During City’s 3-1 Community Shield defeat to Liverpool on the eve of the season, for instance, Moyes spotted one particular run that Haaland makes usually. The next week, he warned his players to observe for it.

Through the game, Haaland duly made the run. He scored. Being forewarned with regards to Haaland, it seems, just isn’t similar to being forearmed.

“I can understand why he’s scoring so many goals,” Dan Burn, the Newcastle defender, told BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this season, pinpointing not only Haaland’s strength — “he’s physically dominant” — and his change of pace, but in addition an intelligence that borders on premonition.

“There have been a couple of times when Kevin De Bruyne didn’t even have the ball at his feet,” Burn said, “and Haaland was already running, because he knew it was going to come back.” Haaland scored just once in that game. Within the context of the remaining of his season, that counts as successful.

It’s that combination of attributes — abilities which might be without delay complementary but one way or the other contradictory: a player so tall shouldn’t be so fast; a player so powerful shouldn’t be so elastic; a player so strong shouldn’t have such finesse — that makes Haaland not only so effective, but in addition within the truest sense exceptional.

“He’s defining the profile,” Matarazzo said. “There are players on the market who’ve similar traits, nevertheless it’s a form of attacker we haven’t really seen before. He’s the template.” To Matarazzo, Haaland is something of a prototype: In years to come back, he suggested strikers can be developed to mirror his skill set.

It is not any surprise, then, that Matarazzo doesn’t imagine there’s a formula for blunting Haaland; soccer managers and varied central defenders, like the remaining of us, are powerless to stop the longer term from happening. All that is feasible is attempting to shape it, just somewhat, in our image. “You possibly can’t stop him,” Matarazzo said. “That’s what makes world-class players world-class. You only must make it difficult for him.”

His strategy for doing that, in those two games across two springs, varied. In a single, he instructed his players to press high. In the opposite, he encouraged them to sit down deep, to lie in wait. “We make allowances for key players, obviously,” he said. “But I’m at all times loyal to our form of play and our strengths on the time. I won’t change all the things for one player.”

He did, though, offer his charges specific guidance on find out how to cope with Haaland. His video evaluation had highlighted two particular sorts of run that the striker favored. One was what Matarazzo known as a “square deep run,” dragging the defense from its moorings, and a “curved movement into depth.”

“You don’t tell all the players that,” he said. As a substitute, he gave certain instructions to certain players. “You don’t wish to overload them with information.” He drew, too, on their very own sense of pride. “It’s a challenge to go up against players of that quality,” he said. “Players wish to measure themselves against one of the best. I leaned on that intrinsic motivation. That’s a robust thing.”

Just as essential, though, was the concept of coping with Haaland by ensuring they didn’t must deal with Haaland. “You might have to limit his source,” Matarazzo said, noting that the less touches he has, the less damage he can do. (This theory just isn’t watertight: At one point this season, Haaland was scoring a goal every 13 touches of the ball.)

That source feeding him probabilities just isn’t at all times the apparent one. Stuttgart focused their energies not on the cadre of creative Dortmund players lurking behind Haaland — Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard, Jude Bellingham — but on the veteran defender Mats Hummels. “He was an enormous think about in search of balls behind the back line,” Matarazzo said. Shutting down Haaland involved snapping the thread that tied him to Hummels.

Matarazzo should, possibly, take more pride than he does within the indisputable fact that his approach worked not once but twice and that Haaland left the Bundesliga never having scored against Stuttgart. That he doesn’t is due to the way in which the games turned out. Haaland may not have scored, but Dortmund did. Stuttgart lost each games.

He just isn’t the one opponent to feel like that. Chris Mepham, a Bournemouth defender, spoke earlier this season of his pride in having kept Haaland “quite quiet” during his team’s visit to the Etihad, and with good reason. Bournemouth is the one team thus far this season that has stopped Haaland scoring. It didn’t make much difference. Manchester City won, 4-0.

Still, perhaps, a certified pride is best than a bruised one. Nico Schlotterbeck, the Germany defender, claimed before Dortmund visited City within the Champions League in September that he “knew” find out how to cope with Haaland. He had faced him while playing for his previous club, Freiburg, and had come out on top. “It was that game I knew how strong I could possibly be,” Schlotterbeck said.

On the Etihad, Schlotterbeck got here on instead within the 78th minute. Six minutes later, Haaland hurled his entire 6-foot-4 frame at a Joao Cancelo cross, one way or the other stretching and twisting his leg enough to divert the ball past Alexander Meyer, the Dortmund goalkeeper. It was a brutal lesson, nevertheless it was an apposite one. There isn’t any such thing as stopping Erling Haaland.

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