It’s Haal’ to play for!
No guarantee for City despite Erling class as Kop faces uncertainty
There is no doubt that Erling Haaland has the potential to take Manchester City to the next level – but recent big-money signings confirm that nothing is certain in this game.
Flick your mind back to last summer and Chelsea’s paying £97.5 million to sign Romelu Lukaku, as they added what appeared to be the final piece in Thomas Tuchel’s jigsaw.
After winning the Champions League at the end of the 2021 season, there was an expectation that Tuchel would take Chelsea to more success once they spent some of their spare change on Lukaku, and I bought into that.
Lukaku came with a reputation of being a little high maintenance during his time at Everton and Manchester United, but it looked like he had matured during a couple of years at Inter Milan.
As it turns out, the old Lukaku problems had not gone away and it wasn’t long before he was popping up on TV, moaning about Chelsea and complaining about Tuchel.
It was no surprise he has been sent back to Inter on loan, leaving Chelsea with a large bill for a player who hasn’t delivered and, if anything, caused them more hassle than he was worth last season.
Manchester United have seen this story played out, time and again, with signings such as Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, who turned out to be expensive wastes of money.
And Arsenal were the biggest spenders in last summer’s transfer window, but that didn’t help them as they endured a pretty disappointing season.
Now the expectation is that Haaland will make City into an unbeatable winning machine and, as we sit here now, he does appear to be a great signing.
At every step of his career, Haaland has scored goals and answered the questions that have been thrown at him.
He is great with the ball at his feet, powerful when he is running at defenders and offers City an aerial threat they have not had for some time.
One area they are strong at is whipping balls into the box from Kevin De Bruyne, and now they have a striker who should be able to finish off those chances.
Yet Haaland has never played in the Premier League, and as we have seen in the past that many high-profile players have struggled to adapt to the English league.
He will be up against top defenders and sides that have quality in every position and that wasn’t always the case at Borussia Dortmund.
Also, he has to deal with the expectation that comes with being a high-profile signing and we just don’t know how that will affect him.
City needed a lead striker and Haaland appears to be the best they could have signed, but we have to wait to see if this talented Norwegian fits into their team.
Haaland needs to rise up a level or two in England and, even if it seems he has the quality to do that, he needs to do his talking on the pitch.
The same is true of Liverpool’s signing Darwin Nunez, who might need time to settle in English football after his arrival from Benfica.
Like Haaland, he comes with a big reputation and price tag, but that won’t count for anything when Jurgen Klopp’s men start their Premier League campaign against Fulham in six weeks’ time.
One thing we know about Klopp and his coaching team is they have a fine record of improving players and, even if they take some time to get them into the first team, they generally tend to come good.
The concern for Liverpool fans this summer is the notion there is uncertainty around the team for the first time in many years.
Sadio Mane’s move to Bayern Munich brought to an end the era of a team that was led by three strikers who had served the club so well.
Mohamed Salah, Roberto Fimrimo and Mane were the best attacking trio in the world when they are at their best, and the club are now working towards life beyond all three.
Firmino and Salah may well be gone next summer and then it will be a whole new forward line in the Liverpool team with big shoes to fill. Salah has been averaging 30 goals a season in all competitions, Mane has been getting in excess of 20 and those goals need to be replaced if those two are gone.
Luis Diaz started his Liverpool career in fantastic fashion, but he will need to score more goals and we don’t know yet whether Nunez can deliver the 30 goals a season Salah has been guaranteeing.
So, while City have signed a striker who appears to tick all their missing boxes, there are questions hovering over Liverpool that we have not had to ask for a long time.
Having three proven forwards who delivered year after year has been a real bonus for Klopp.
It will need some shrewd management to ensure the next few seasons are as successful as those that have gone before.
City will score more goals this season if Haaland is even half as good as we think he is – and that prospect is pretty intimidating for the teams hoping to knock them off their perch at the top of the Premier League.
The teams competing with City are all trying to piece together team improvements in this summer’s transfer window, with Liverpool undergoing some changes, and Tottenham and Chelsea looking to make strides forward with some big signings.
Yet City and Liverpool are so far ahead of every other team in England that I can’t see those two being challenged at the top of the table – and it will fall to
Klopp to come up with a few managerial miracles once again if he is to beat City.
The good news for Liverpool is they have the best manager in the business steering their ship and so long as Klopp is in place, I am convinced the good times will continue to roll at Anfield.
Conte can get Spurs humming
Tottenham could be a team to watch in the Premier League when the new season gets underway. If Roy Keane is reading the Sunday World today, he might well be rolling his eyes at my comment here, as he has little or nothing good to say about the side that has a habit of fluffing their lines when the key moments arrive. But I think things might change for them if they keep Antonio Conte (below) as their manager. He got them over the line to qualify for the Champions League last season, and that was evidence that he is already shifting the mentality at Tottenham. Conte has been a winner on every step of his coaching career and you could see signs in the second half of last season that his influence was starting to be felt. Like Jurgen Klopp in his first year at Liverpool, Conte was putting a few pillars in place that he could build on for this season. Now we wait to see what comes next for the Spurs manager and his team. They have made some interesting and shrewd signings in the transfer market by bringing in Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan and Brighton’s Yves Bissouma, who was strongly linked with Liverpool not so long ago. They have kept Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, who are one of the best attacking duos in the Premier League, and you can feel a mood change around the club. The gap between Manchester City and Liverpool will be too much for Tottenham to breach next season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go very close to finishing ahead of Chelsea in third place. Managers of Conte’s quality are worth their weight in gold and we might just see a different Tottenham emerging under the guidance of a serial winner.
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