Sports FOOTBALL Barney Ronay Holland's difficult debut shows City must be...

Barney Ronay Holland’s difficult debut shows City must be patient


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OK: It may take some time. Just talk among yourselves. For Erling Haaland, this was the debut of not just forgetting, but crushing, burning and burying at the bottom of the garden. Haaland looked weary at the end of this sticky Community Shield finale in the heat of summer, pulling back the curtain on a stage barely cleared of tables and men in brown coats.

For much of the second half at King Power Stadium, Haaland hid and idly idly in the center circle. With only a few seconds left, he made a remarkably sincere miss, knocking his shot off the top of the bar with all the slight grace of a man poking his foot into a hedgerow with a crumpled beer can.

Darwin Nunez wins Community Shield as Liverpool sink Manchester City

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Most of the time, Haaland looked like he is, a completely different player than his teammates and a man who will certainly need time, regardless of his track record at the moment. It’s no secret that Manchester City’s standout summer is lacking in fitness, but that’s more of a question fitnesshis own mosaic with the way City plays.

There would not be much benefit in doing what Haaland did here more vigorously, in being inefficient with greater intensity. By the end, he had landed 16 touches, scored no headers, made no interceptions or dribbles, completed seven passes, and demonstrated a self-imposed but ultimately useless exercise of trapped energy, like a huge fly jumping over a windowpane.

New team, new style, new plans: but these are wonderful numbers. Have any players ever played 90 minutes for Pep Guardiola’s team and made seven assists?

On this occasion, Haaland was upstaged by Darwin Nunez, who entered the field with half an hour left, made one and scored one goal in a convincing 3-1 victory for Liverpool. Liverpool’s idea of ​​what a top three should look like. He ran hard through the middle. He looked direct and clear in his mind. As an example of buying a player that clearly suits your pre-existing attack style, this was pretty compelling.

Haaland shows his frustration after missing a great chance to score. Photograph: Michael Regan/The FA/Getty Images

At the beginning of the match, King Power was a stuffy and sweaty place. The noise was rough and strangely unrelated, as if everyone present had just woken up from a feverish summer slumber and suddenly found themselves thrown back into this thing, into this world, into this energy. Which, to put it bluntly, is pretty much what happened.

The sight of Haaland on the city’s command list caused an instant adrenaline rush: all those vowels, the symmetry of the consonants. Even his name is one. In the 11th minute, he made his first City touchdown, going deep to take the throw-in and catch the ball with all the agility of a man trying to catch a tennis ball in a frying pan.

For a while, he looked a little lost in this team of interconnected pegs. It’s easy to get fed up, to forget that City play football like no other, a wave of pressure in which movements repeat and multiply, parts spin and slip away. Let’s throw a baseball bat in there and see what happens.

City’s starting formation was a fluid 4-1-4-1 with only Rodri and Haaland sticking to a certain part of the field ahead of the defense. But at times they were interrupted. City always have too many players on the pitch. Here, for the first time, they seemed to lack. It seems like a superficial observation, but it’s also true: the big advantage of not playing with a striker was extra players, extra angles, extra passing opportunities. Control, possession, friendship with the ball. That was it. How easy will it be to find new patterns?

Liverpool took the lead thanks to a deflected shot from Trent Alexander-Arnold, and for most of that game the team looked more united and aligned. For City, the problem isn’t so much that Haaland was bad (he was) or that he looked inappropriate (he is). Everyone knows this, no one better than Pep himself, who knows it in vivid, minute details.

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The question is, how long will this lapping last, and what form can it take? Can Haaland just walk through it? It may have the appearance of an unbreakable force of engineering sports will. But form and certainty are not inexhaustible substances. And the Premier League is brutal theatre.

In the end, Guardiola brushed off questions about Haaland’s lack of sharpness. “He has an incredible quality,” he shrugged. This is of course correct, and it will be interesting to see exactly how his manager tries to prove it. According to the evidence, there is at least one reason to rejoice here. Guardiola really loves to train.

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