Multiple reports this week have claimed that Manchester City have agreed to personal terms with Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. While the club have not commented and MEN Sport understands that an agreement is close rather than finalized, it appears increasingly likely that the highly-sought after striker will be playing at the Etihad Stadium next season.
At just 21-year-old Haaland is already an elite striker, having scored a remarkable 82 goals in 85 matches for Dortmund over the past two years. He would no doubt score plenty of goals in sky blue, but an even more frightening prospect for opponents is the way he could enable Kevin de Bruyne to enjoy his best-ever season at City.
After injury, Covid-19 and a string of rusty performances caused De Bruyne to have a slow start to the season, the Belgian midfielder has come into his own since the start of 2022, and is arguably now City’s most important player.
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The number 17 has scored 14 goals in all competitions so far this season, meaning he is on track to surpass his best single-season tally of 16 that he has scored in 2019/20. However, more importantly than the number of goals is the knack he’s developed for scoring important goals in crucial moments.
This campaign De Bruyne has scored decisive goals against Liverpool, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United, although with Haaland leading the line he might not need to make that kind of contribution next season. Where he might become more involved next term is the assists charts. Despite his other-worldly delivery and unique vision of him, De Bruyne has only assisted three goals in the Premier League this season. In 2020/21 I have set up 12 goals, and in 2019/20 eight more than that.
This dip in production is arguably through no fault of his own though. In a host of other creative metrics, De Bruyne is actually the best player in the division. Ranks first in the league in key passes per 90 minutes (3.3) and shot-creating actions per 90 minutes (5.2), while when it comes to expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the only players who have made more than 15 appearances to have bettered his tally of 0.3.
Then there is the fact that no player in the league has a greater discrepancy between their xA (6.2) and actual assists (3) this season. In other words, De Bruyne has assisted three goals, but the quality of chances he created suggests he should have assisted six. What all this data goes to show is that De Bruyne is largely still the creative genius he has always been, it’s just that those in-front of him are not making the most of his service.
While City have hardly struggled to score goals this season without a traditional number nine – only Liverpool have scored more than City’s 72 goals – a regular criticism of Guardiola’s side is that they spurn too many clear-cut opportunities. A recent example is the 2-2 draw against Liverpool. At 2-1 up City had ample opportunity to put the game to bed, but as Guardiola put it after the game, they left their title rivals “alive.”
According to Stats Perform, Haaland has converted 60% of big chances (excluding penalties) since he joined Dortmund in January 2020, 42 out of 70. No other player in Europe’s top five leagues who has had at least 30 big chances in the same time period has a better conversion rate.
It stands to reason then that Haaland would be much more clinical in front of goal than the likes of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden, and would therefore convert more of the passes, crosses and through balls that De Bruyne provides. Kevin de Bruyne’s best season in a City shirt was arguably 2019/20, when he scored 16 goals and provided 23 assists in all competitions and was voted PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
With a reliable goal-scorer ready to latch on to his assists, De Bruyne could reach a whole new level for City next season.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.