Haaland out to hush critics as Man City aim to repeat Real Madrid heroics

Manchester City are closing in on a second consecutive treble, yet Erling Haaland is still facing criticism as Real Madrid visit the Etihad on Wednesday aiming to exact revenge for their Champions League exit last season.The 14-time European champions were humbled 4-0 on their visit to Manchester 11 months ago at the semi-final stage as City went on to win the Champions League for the first time, along with the Premier League and FA Cup.

Pep Guardiola’s men are 12 games away from repeating that remarkable feat even without their prolific Norwegian hitting the form he did last season.

Haaland’s return of 31 goals in 38 games this season is still impressive, but he has not scored in City’s three meetings with Madrid in the past year and failed to find the net in 13 of his last 20 matches for club and country.

The 23-year-old has also been in the firing line for not offering anything other than goals.

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher labelled Haaland the “ultimate luxury player” who is yet to become “world-class”.

Ex-Manchester United captain Roy Keane, infamously sent-off in a Manchester derby for a pre-meditated lunge on Haaland’s father Alf-Inge due to a long-running feud, went even further by claiming the City striker’s hold-up play resembles that of a player in England’s fourth-tier League Two.

The Spanish press have been just as harsh after Haaland failed to fire for a second consecutive year at the Santiago Bernabeu in a thrilling first leg that ended 3-3 last week.

His performance was described by Madrid sports daily Marca as “impotent”, while AS called him “clumsy and desperate” in his attempts to get the better of Antonio Rudiger.

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti will not repeat the same mistake of dropping Rudiger for the second leg as he did last season after the German had kept Haaland quiet in the Bernabeu.

Guardiola backing

City manager Guardiola has been protective of his star striker, pointing to both his record and the collective success of his side in Haaland’s two seasons at the club.

The English champions have lifted the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup already this season with more silverware likely to follow.

City hold a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League with six games to play and face Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

However, it is by helping to retain the Champions League that Haaland can make a global statement and further his bid to win the Ballon d’Or — the annual award for the world’s best player.

“The target is not the Ballon d’Or, the target is to win trophies and he did. Would we have won five trophies last year without him? Not a chance,” said Guardiola when quizzed about Haaland’s critics.

Guardiola also believes the forward’s presence did have a telling impact in Madrid as Phil Foden and Josko Gvardiol were allowed space on the edge of the box to smash in stunning strikes as the Real defence tracked Haaland.

“He helps us to make more spaces in the areas and his contribution has been exceptional since the day he arrived last season,” added Guardiola.

“(He) helped us score some of them (goals) by creating lots of spaces for the other ones to score the goals. I saw in his face, in what he said after the game, in the locker room, he was extremely happy (in Madrid).”

City’s result in the Spanish capital is not as spectacular as it would have been in the era of away goals, but they are now favourites to make a fourth consecutive semi-final thanks to a fearsome record on home soil.

The holders have not lost in 30 Champions League games at the Etihad, dating back to 2018, and are unbeaten in 41 matches in all competitions at home since November 2022.

“There is not one minute where we will not do what we have to do,” said Guardiola. “Be a humble team, a solidarity team and to try to attack them. We believe we can do it.”


© Agence France-Presse

Photo: Twitter @Sauce_Monstar

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Dylan Johnson