Every centre back in England will have Erling Haaland marked in their black book as a personal challenge. I would have loved to have tested myself against this man-mountain who’s a true No 9 in every sense thanks to his power, pace and poise.
Haaland looks like an honest competitor — someone with the brute strength to handle himself and won’t be dropping down easily under pressure from defenders — and I like that. Whenever I faced a big-name signing who was new to England, that first contact was key — that’s when you can say: ‘Welcome to the Premier League.’
One player who stands out is Gianluca Vialli when he signed for Chelsea in 1996. People seemed to be talking about him night and day, and I couldn’t wait to make that first challenge. I’ve had to apologise to Gianluca ever since — he is a great guy — and also say sorry to a whole host of other Premier League strikers, too!
If I was facing Haaland this weekend I’d adopt the tactics that worked for me during my career. I’d embrace the physicality — I used to go in hard in my tackles early on. I might even give him a little nip in the back as an annoying reminder of my presence.
He needs to know I’m as strong as him, as quick as him and as competitive as him and that he’ll have to work to win every ball against me. You have to be his worst nightmare and make sure he knows that he’s in for a major battle whenever we meet. If he leaves thinking he’s had an easy afternoon, it will get worse every time you play him.
Haaland will bring a different dynamic to City. There was one moment during last weekend’s Community Shield when we saw a flash of what he will bring.
Bernardo Silva had no option but to play a hopeful pass towards Haaland. He chested down a difficult ball, outmuscled and outpaced Andy Robertson and, despite being under pressure, fashioned a shot to test Adrian. That is what can happen when you feed this 6ft 5in star and what happened to the impressive Robertson is bound to happen to a few others this year.
City punish opponents with passes and if they can’t get at you down one side, they’ll recycle the ball and try the other. It’s how they have been programmed with their use of a false nine over the last two seasons.
But now, they’ve got this buccaneering warrior down the middle who they simply must serve. There were occasions during the Community Shield when City’s players could have gone directly into the big man but didn’t, which would have frustrated Haaland.
He won’t be doing what Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan or Kevin De Bruyne did when they were acting as false nines and dropping deep to take part in the one-touch, two-touch football. He’ll stay high, central, and close to goal to make himself a handful for Premier League centre backs.
City’s players are so intelligent in the way they play, it won’t take long for them to start providing Haaland with the service he needs. They’ll learn that they don’t always have to make 10, 20, 30 passes to carve out a chance when they can go straight into their striker.
Liverpool are ferocious pressers so the Community Shield was always going to be a challenge for the Norwegian — especially when he wasn’t fully fit after a limited pre-season and suddenly facing the Premier League’s best defensive partnership in Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip.
Next it’s the turn of West Ham’s defenders to try to bottle him up. At Dortmund, Haaland would have become angry when his team-mates didn’t give him the ball. Because he’s new to City, it may be a little early for that. But given his skill set, Haaland will soon start making his presence felt in the City dressing room.
It’s down to the central defenders to find a way to stop him and we should see some thrilling battles this season.