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'Happy' Haaland here to stay insists Guardiola

Updated: 2023-03-14 09:32
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Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola celebrates victory at Crystal Palace with star striker Erling Haaland on Saturday. Haaland netted the winner at Selhurst Park in London to keep second-placed City on the tail of Premier League leader Arsenal. AP

Pep dismisses doubts over prolific striker's suitability for City

As Erling Haaland was mobbed by his Manchester City teammates, the Norway star's broad grin gave Pep Guardiola renewed belief that his coveted striker is still happy at the club ahead of Tuesday's decisive Champions League clash with RB Leipzig.

When Haaland scored a late penalty to clinch City's 1-0 win against Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday, he responded with a joyous slide across the rain-soaked Selhurst Park pitch.

Amid reports that Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid are plotting audacious bids for Haaland in the offseason, the 22-year-old's ecstatic reaction to his winner was a welcome sight for Guardiola.

Haaland has scored 28 times in the Premier League and netted 34 goals in all competitions since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in May.

He remains on course to break the Premier League goal record for a single campaign, jointly held by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, who netted 34 for Blackburn and Newcastle respectively.

Yet, although the raw numbers suggest all is well with the astonishingly prolific striker and his team, the eye-test has sometimes painted a different picture.

There have been pointed questions raised about Guardiola's ability to get City to adapt to Haaland's unique talents, and the striker's own issues with coming to terms with the champion's style of play.

At times, Haaland has been isolated and starved of the ball in City's attack, surrounded by defenders during his team's long spells of possession.

As a result, City has occasionally seemed more toothless than Haaland's phenomenal record would suggest, with his misses microscopically analyzed for evidence he is a square peg in a round hole.

Haaland missed a sitter before scoring at Palace, while his profligacy in a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest in February saw City surrender first place in the Premier League.

With City trailing Arsenal by five points in the title race, the Champions League may offer its best chance of a memorable end to the season.

'Thinking positive'

City has never won Europe's elite club competition and must see off Leipzig, who earned a 1-1 draw in the last-16, first leg in Germany, to advance to the quarterfinals.

Guardiola will need Haaland at his predatory best and he insisted there is no reason to doubt the striker's commitment to the City cause.

"The way he celebrates his goals and his mates' goals shows how happy he is here and how we are with him and his personality," Guardiola said.

"This guy doesn't score one or two goals and the people go, 'oh he's not the same!' He is always there so the numbers speak for themselves.

"One of the biggest attributes I've discovered knowing him and working together is the fact that he can miss one chance, second, he's not getting depressed, he's not sad.

"He's thinking positive, he knows he will have the chance, he knows he will be there. And this is an incredible attribute as a football player."

However, Guardiola was willing to acknowledge the growing pains experienced since Haaland's transfer, adding: "What I would like when I finish our period together is the fact that he could improve the game, with the association with the team.

"Realizing how he can be involved in our game, not just putting the ball in the net. Because the net will happen all the time in his life."

Haaland is well aware of the pressure to live up to the hype that saw him rated as the best finisher in Europe following his arrival in Manchester.

Showing no signs of wanting to flee to Paris or Madrid, for now at least, Haaland said: "Of course I don't like to miss chances.

"I just do as I do every game, focus on my game. It's not that bad, we have to keep going. As I said it's not easy, I'm really proud."

Inzaghi under pressure

Simone Inzaghi is in the firing line as his Inter Milan side travels to Porto trying to make the last eight of the Champions League and turn a depressing tide of bad results away from home.

Friday's 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Spezia was the latest poor effort away from the San Siro and left Inter once again 18 points behind champion-elect Napoli.

Inzaghi and his team were booed and insulted by the Inter fans present at the Stadio Picco, who had to watch the son of AC Milan icon Paolo Maldini slot home the opening goal.

Inter only held on to second place in Italy's top flight thanks to Lazio failing to win at Bologna on Saturday, but the Nerrazurri's bid to qualify for next season's Champions League is being damaged by their dreadful away form.

Inzaghi said "we won't be able to sleep" after Friday's hugely disappointing eighth loss of the Serie A season, which took its tally of goals conceded to 24 in 13 league away matches.

"We're not happy about our results away from the San Siro. Last year it was a different story," said Inzaghi.

"We have had some great results away, like at Barcelona (a 3-3 draw), and we know that we need to put in a great performance if we're going to reach the quarterfinals."

Inter's defensive wobbles were also present throughout its group-stage campaign, with five goals conceded in matches at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

And elimination on Tuesday would not only mean missing out on a first last-eight tie since 2011, it would also heap more pressure on Inzaghi with fierce rival Juventus visiting the San Siro on Sunday.


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