City boss Guardiola urges Haaland to ‘relax’ after concerns about his body language

AP , Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola called on Erling Haaland to “relax” and stay positive after being concerned by the prolific striker’s on-field demeanor before he scored the first goals of his comeback from injury.

Erling Haaland
Manchester City s Norwegian striker #09 Erling Haaland (R) scores the team s second goal past Everton s English goalkeeper #01 Jordan Pickford during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on February 10, 2024. AFP

Guardiola was critical of his players’ body language during the 2-0 win over Everton in the Premier League on Saturday, which saw Haaland score twice in the second half after a frustrating first 45 minutes for the Norwegian.

“In that moment, he has to be positive,” Guardiola said Monday, a day before Haaland and City take on FC Copenhagen away in the first leg of the Champions League’s round of 16. “When he scored a goal, he reacted but he doesn’t need to score because he helps us for many things.

“He is defined by goals but it is not just scoring a goal. As much it’s how he is clapping, encouraging his mates and the first intense press. This is what we need from Erling.”

Not that the 23-year-old Haaland ever goes too long without scoring. He was the top scorer in his first year in the Premier League with 36 goals last season, and has 40 goals in 35 games in the Champions League.

Haaland has just returned from nearly two months out with a foot injury, and scored in his third game back.

“If he doesn’t score tomorrow, the day after or next week, it’s not a big issue,” Guardiola said. “He’s so strong. It comes from nature. He’s coped perfectly because he’s so strong mentally. He scores one goal and wants a second and a third.

“You see his numbers at his age. In the Champions League not even (Lionel) Messi or Cristiano (Ronaldo) had these numbers at his age.”

City won the Champions League for the first time last season at the end of Guardiola’s seventh year in charge, completing a treble of major trophies along with the Premier League and FA Cup.

Before that, City had lost in the 2021 final to Chelsea, tripped up in the semifinals in 2022, and lost in the quarterfinals for three straight years from 2018.

The dominant force in English soccer for the past decade, City — fueled by the riches of its Abu Dhabi ownership — is now among the most feared teams in Europe and Guardiola believes the best legacy he will leave the club is convincing the players, staff and leadership that it can be the best in Europe.

“I had the feeling when I arrived eight years ago that this competition was too much for us,” Guardiola said. “Our defeats, our bad moments, our steps to grow up, they have helped us to put us in the position we are in: two Champion League finals and one semifinal in the last three years.

“All the organization at the club now believes we can (win the Champions League) and this I believe is the best legacy that we give to the club, to the team. That Man City can compete.”

On paper, City is the heavy favorite against a Copenhagen team that hasn’t played a competitive match in more than two months during the Danish league’s mid-season winter break.

To regain some match sharpness, the Danish champions have been playing in the Atlantic Cup — a tournament in the Algarve in Portugal featuring clubs from leagues that aren’t currently active.

Games against fellow Scandinavian teams Elfsborg, Brondby and Molde cannot compare to facing the European champions and Guardiola isn’t sure what to expect at Parken Stadium on Tuesday — except for a traditionally hostile atmosphere.

“I would say they will be starving to compete, hungry, fresh in legs and fresh in mind,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t know about their rhythm but they have had a lot of time to prepare for the game. Hopefully, we can be in a good level to compete.”

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