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Erling Haaland's movement is one of the biggest threats to Manchester City's Champions League ambitions this season but he could also be one of their most potent weapons in the future if they sign him. Photo by: Getty Images

Erling Haaland's movement is one of the biggest threats to Manchester City's Champions League ambitions this season but he could also be one of their most potent weapons in the future if they sign him. Photo by: Getty Images

Erling Haaland's movement is one of the biggest threats to Manchester City's Champions League ambitions this season but he could also be one of their most potent weapons in the future if they sign him. Photo by: Getty Images

Over the last few weeks, Manchester City’s staff have been tracking Erling Haaland’s runs for the benefit of their defenders tonight, but it is far from easy. The Borussia Dortmund striker has quite a range.

That unpredictability could prove decisive in whether City finally win the Champions League, either this season or in the future.

For all Pep Guardiola’s protestations about money, Haaland is obviously the club’s number-one target. They have a vision for how he’ll fit into the team. That may differ, however, from most people’s vision of Haaland as a player.

Haaland’s sheer size means it’s almost impossible not to primarily associate him with power, and last year’s Champions League last-16 goal against Paris Saint-Germain feels like it could be his signature strike.

You couldn’t have a better display of the kind of awesome force that most of Europe has come to fear. It was almost like football’s version of Jonah Lomu.

Haaland left a trail of defenders in his wake with an Olympian sprint, before just lashing the ball into the top corner.

While that emphasised Haaland’s full capabilities, the reality is that kind of goal is much rarer in his repertoire. The vast majority of his strikes come from stealth rather than strength.

If you go through his career goals, the most common image is the Norwegian stretching or striving to tap in from inside the six-yard box. Such strikes make up 30 of his 104 goals so far. When you add in his four close-range headers, it means a third of Haaland’s career finishes have come in or around the six-yard box.

Alfe Ingve Bernsten, who coached the young Haaland at Bryne FK, says it has always been in his game. He always had that instinct for where to go.

“When I see him now, it’s like when he was 11 or 12,” Bernsten says. “Some of these tap-ins, they’re not ordinary tap-ins. They come from movement, sometimes explosive, sometimes smartness, sometimes suddenly he’s two metres behind. He varies a lot.”

That’s why he’s so hard to track. Many will only see that same type of finish, but it comes from so many different runs. Defenders will often only realise they’ve lost him as he’s scoring.

When you see Haaland’s goals, and read how Bernsten speaks, the realisation is that the Norwegian is fundamentally one of those nimble little penalty-box poachers who grew into a powerhouse. The strength came after the stealth.

There’s something else recognisable in that, of course, that is so relevant to City. Haaland’s most frequent finish is precisely the type of “five-a-side goal” that Guardiola idealises, and his teams specialise in. How often have we seen one of City’s forwards receive the ball at the back to just tap in, in the manner Haaland has already made his speciality? How often have we seen Sergio Aguero do it?

Well, not as much as Haaland, actually. Haaland has scored more of them in his 104 career goals, than Aguero has in his 181 Premier League goals.

In other words, he may be more Aguero than Aguero, at least in terms of what Guardiola wants. It’s easy to see why City want Haaland so much.

Some sources maintain City believe they already have him. Others on the Norwegian and Spanish sides insist Haaland’s first preference at this age is LaLiga, in order to prolong his career.

His next move is still difficult to predict, as he has so many options.

It’s just not as difficult to predict as where he’ll move on the pitch. That is City’s most immediate concern, and the most immediate way Haaland can influence whether they finally win that Champions League.

Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund

Live, VM Two/BT Sport 3, 8.0

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