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After breaking onto the scene with FK Molde in 2018, Erling Haaland has had a quick rise to becoming one of the very best footballers on the planet now in 2021, at the tender age of twenty years old. This season the Norwegian striker has taken his game to new heights, scoring a remarkable thirty-two goals in twenty-eight matches across all competitions. He’s particularly impressed in the UEFA Champions League, leading Dortmund into the Quarter Finals with ten goals in six matches so far. Here is a tactical analysis of one of the greatest phenoms in the history of the Bundesliga – Erling Haaland.
PHYSICALITY & SPEED
Often likened to a machine, the most striking thing about Erling Haaland’s game since he burst onto the scene as a seventeen-year old has always been his incredible speed and strength. His odd hunched over running style is so unique and so powerful that it becomes even more impossible to ignore (and stop). As anyone who has watched Haaland play will tell you, this physicality allows the Dortmund man to easily shrug off defenders, outpace them, and get on the end of any kind of pass put into his path….and even the ones far, far away from his path. He’s just that quick and that strong.
Erling Haaland is an absolute beast in the air and has no trouble at all towering over and outmuscling opposition defenders. Standing at 6’4 certainly helps the Norwegian striker with his aerial presence, but he attacks the ball with so much more aggression and force than arguably anyone else in the world. A significant amount of his goals have been scored via the top of his noggin this season, allowing Dortmund to have a constant threat in the penalty area beyond just the individual brilliance that he possesses to advance into dangerous positions. If the Black & Yellows choose to play a longer pass, deliver a high cross, or float one over top of the opposition defense, the Norwegian is more than capable of producing something spectacular in the air. Recently, he even scored a magnificent bicycle kick against arch-rivals Schalke, hanging in the air to an extent that was reminiscent of Ronaldo’s revered headed goal leaps.
The physicality and presence that Haaland possesses also extends to his incredible speed and running power. At six-foot-four you wouldn’t expect Haaland to be the quickest player in the world, but he is certainly up there. When he’s in full flow he is nearly impossible to stop. As some smaller players might outpace their opposition defender but then get outmuscled during the final stretch, Haaland doesn’t have that concern. He often easily shrugs defenders off the ball, using his arms and shoulders for extra support to get away from those that stand in his path, with ease.
MOVEMENT INSIDE THE BOX
One of the most striking things that allows the Norwiegian striker to score so many goals, is his incredible movement inside the box. A real poacher, Erling Haaland has a fantastic knack for finding and exploiting space in and around the opposition’s defensive line. As he’s demonstrated many times already in his young career, he’s even able to exploit those gaps when none exist. Take for example a goal that the then 19-year old scored against Union Berlin last season.
Berlin set up with six defenders inside the box and two others close by. Erling Haaland on the other hand, was practically all alone with no room to breathe. You would think the defenders would be able to cope with this situation out of the result of their sheer numbers advantage. But Erling Haaland is no ordinary striker. The Norwegian found a gap in between two of the players to get on the end of Julian Brandt’s pacey cross at the exact right moment, slotting the ball into the corner. His quick acceleration into the space gave the defenders no time to react and no time to communicate about his positioning, before it was too late.
In a 2020 article titled ‘How To Move Like A World Class Striker’, I outlined some of the most effective movements that strikers can utilize to escape their markers. This second example of Haaland’s movement is one of the most clever ways to break free and involves a bit of disguise. Essentially, Haaland pretends for a second like he’s about to go to his left, the back-peddling defender follows, and then can’t react quickly enough as the Norwegian shifts his weight onto the right side instead, catching the defender completely flat footed.
It’s unquestionable that the ball in this example from Achraf Hakimi was a good one, but the Monchengladbach defender could have easily cut out his cross had Haaland’s movement not been so clever and so confusing. The subtly to this goal is also worth noting. It’s not as though Haaland had to waste any time in making a darting run to one side and then the other. It was simply a step to one side and then in the blink of an eye, a step to the side of the ball, before finishing on his weaker right foot with ease. At just twenty-years old, this sort of movement highlights the striker’s insane quality that extends years beyond what his age would historically suggest. The final goal that we examine comes against Dortmund’s bitter rivals, the soon to be relegated FC Schalke 04.
In this example, Erling Haaland cleverly situated himself in between the two centre-backs, who couldn’t adequately cover him because of this positioning. A diffusion of responsibility occurred between the defenders, and instantly Haaland was through on goal, being given time and space to open up his body and finish on his favoured left foot.
The vast majority of Haaland’s goals, whether they be poacher goals in and around the penalty area, or clever movements in behind, come from this kind of positioning in between two defenders. With his exceptional pace, this positioning only amplifies the difficulty in stopping him. With Haaland in their side, Dortmund could easily clip a ball over the top at any stage of the game and catch the opposition off guard, due to his incredible pace. Many of his goals are scored by breaking through the opposition in this manner, quickly slowing his speed down as the goalkeeper comes out, easily inching it past the goalkeeper onto his favoured left foot and then tapping it in. Pure class.
Although the twenty-year old striker is an absolute menace when it comes to scoring goals, he’s much more than just your average goal-scorer. Now that’s a very obvious statement given his goal record so far of forty-seven goals in forty-seven appearances for Borussia Dortmund; but goals aren’t the only thing that make Haaland so remarkable. Like any good modern striker, the Norwegian is exceptional with his back to goal. This comes in part with his aerial ability and strength to hold off defenders, but it also comes from his underrated ball control and clever link-up play with the likes of Sancho, Reus and Reyna. Haaland is a surprisingly skillful player and although his stats in both passes and touches are relatively low, it’s not because he lacks the quality. It’s more about the type of dribbles and passes he attempts, which are far riskier than what most other strikers who engage in link-up play would try.
His fantastic ability to interpret the space in behind the opposition also extends to his ability to operate in between the lines and drop deep to pick up possession. With Dortmund’s impeccable combination play and one-touch passing, Haaland needs to be capable of linking up with his teammates and operating far deeper than where he ends up scoring most of his goals. The key is that Haaland will often use his strength and presence to link up with others lower on the field, and then burst into space with that incredible running power and finish off chances later on. With this element to his game, Erling Haaland is much more than just a goal-scorer, and has all the qualities needed to make it at any professional team in the world.
Although we are often cautious about heaping praise on young players too early, Erling Haaland is quite an extraordinary case that cannot be ignored. His impeccable timing of runs, matched by his pace and power and superb finishing ability, make the Norwegian an absolute nightmare to defend against. What’s perhaps even more troubling for defenders is just how much fun Erling Haaland always looks like he’s having when he’s terrorizing the opposition. At just twenty-years old, the Dortmund man is one of the most feared strikers on the planet and looks absolutely destined to become a future Ballon d’Or winner. Where he goes from here remains to be seen, but for now Erling Haaland is one of the best footballers on the planet.
So there it is! A player analysis all about Borussia Dortmund’s incredible striker – Erling Haaland. Be sure to check out more Player Analyses, and share your thoughts on what makes Haaland so special in the comments below or on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!