Secretly, they must have hoped in Munich that Erling Haaland's groin would tweak for a while longer. Manchester City's storm sensation missed the Premier League match against Liverpool FC and Norway's European Championship qualifiers against Spain and Georgia at the end of March and beginning of April due to complaints.
But on Saturday he returned to the team in City's game against Southampton, last in the table, scoring two goals again as if nothing had happened. FC Bayern cannot cling to Haaland's failure when they play in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals in Manchester this Tuesday (21:00 in the F.A.Z. live ticker for the Champions League and Prime Video).
In all competitions combined, Haaland has scored a whopping 38 goals in 44 appearances this season; 30 in the Premier League, ten in the Champions League – five of them in the second leg of the round of sixteen against RB Leipzig. In the 4-1 win against Southampton, not only his knack for scoring helped him, but also his almost incomparable athleticism: He scored the goal to make it 3-0 with a spectacular side-kick.
Haaland needs templates
However, he succeeded because Southampton's defenders allowed him to develop freely in the situation. City coach Pep Guardiola praised Haaland afterwards: football had experienced "two incredible decades" with world stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but at least when it came to scoring goals, Haaland was on the same level.
Haaland doesn't have to do much more than that in Guardiola's system. He is rarely involved in City's passing game: he plays an average of only 13.3 passes per match; his 44 goals are matched by only five assists. He can also concentrate on his role as a thoroughbred attacker because he is surrounded by players whose task it is to tailor him. The master of this discipline is the Belgian Kevin De Bruyne, City's longest-serving professional.
Against Southampton, De Bruyne provided the assist to make it 1-0 – who else? – Erling Haaland. As a result, he set a new record: It was his 100th goal assist in the Premier League, as fast as he has managed no one else. This season, De Bruyne has prepared seven goals from Haaland directly in the league alone.
Guardiola's tactical approach to Haaland at the top is a departure from possession football. Without De Bruyne, change probably wouldn't work so well. To a lesser extent, this also applies to the ever-stronger Jack Grealish, who scored the 2-0 on Saturday and brought in the flank before Haaland's drop-back. Since the World Cup in Qatar, he has been directly involved in ten goals in 15 league appearances.
In the fight for the English championship, City are now six points behind league leaders FC Arsenal, who drew 2-2 against Liverpool on Sunday. The title in the Champions League, which Guardiola has not been able to win with City so far, is more important. With Haaland it should work.