Manchester City striker Erling Haaland (C) celebrates with team-mates
London (AFP) - As Erling Haaland was mobbed by his Manchester City team-mates, 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 close season, 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 champions’ style of play.
At times, Haaland has ploughed a lone furrow in City’s attack, left isolated and surrounded by defenders during his team’s long spells of possession.
As a result, City have occasionally seemed more toothless than Haaland’s phenomenal record would suggest, with his misses microscopically analysed for evidence he is square peg in a round hole.
Haaland did miss 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 their best chance of a memorable end to the season.
- ‘He’s thinking positive’ -
They have 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 quarter-finals.
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 itself.
“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.
“Realising 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.”