Guardiola gives his squad no explanation when they are rested or dropped, with the Premier League champions having to juggle 19 games in just over two months. When his players start travelling around Europe, Guardiola will assess who needs to be on the bench, but facing Nottingham Forest tonight at the Etihad Stadium, four days after a home fixture, should not be a problem.
“He is 22 years old and recovers well,” said Guardiola. “He is able to play quite regularly, but not because there is a break for the World Cup. It was four days between these games, then three days before Aston Villa and then Sevilla. With travel, for the recovery it is much, much worse.”
Haaland has scored six times in four games – a rate that would bring him 57 goals by the end of the season.
“Everyone talked a lot, so we are delighted and hopefully he feels comfortable here,” said Guardiola. “We didn’t have doubts but he has been here just one month, there are many games still to come and time to be a better player and we are working on that.”
So, how do you stop him? West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace all failed, and although Bournemouth kept him at bay, City still scored four. Forest are the next to try, and manager Steve Cooper has had more time than most to work out how to keep him quiet.
Cooper was England Under-17s manager when they played a Norway side in May 2017 that contained a 16-year-old Haaland, who left a lasting impression.
“We were aware of him even then,” Cooper said. “We did our analysis and watched the qualification games and could see he was a good player. He was physically more developed.”
Cooper believes there is no simple answer to stopping Haaland, rather it is trusting in Forest’s own process to prepare the best possible game-plan – and even then it is not guaranteed to work.
“The obvious quality is his goalscoring ability and his ruthlessness in wanting to do that,” Cooper said. “For all of the good things he’s got in his game, that’s the real obvious one that makes all the difference. That’s what we’ve been analysing as much as anything else.
“He’s a really good athlete, a really powerful player who gets into the box. But at the same time there’s so many parts to City’s game that you can look at and think it’s such a high level. What we’ve got to do is just continue to believe in how we work and how we analyse. This is obviously a massive test, but it’s these games we want to be part of.”
Newcastle were 3-1 ahead with half an hour to play against City when Haaland lashed home from close range, triggering a fightback to claim a draw.
“I think he is very different [to anyone else we have seen],” said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe. “I was very, very impressed when he played against us. Physically, I thought he was very good. It seems as though he has got everything and I don’t see a weakness.
“I was pleased with the majority of the game, I thought we dealt with him pretty well and that’s a credit to the whole team, because it takes a team effort to deal with a player that good. He is an outstanding talent.”
Guardiola, however, was coy on whether he would pick his striker against Forest, but did confirm if Haaland did not play, then Julian Alvarez would come in.
“When Erling doesn’t play, we are going to play Julian. That is almost sure,” he said. “We are really impressed with his pace, his sense of goal, the work ethic, for many things.
“I knew him a little bit on TV and clips but I am surprised how good he is. He’s so humble, always positive and every training session he gives everything. I like these type of players.”
No matter who starts, Cooper insists they’re relishing the challenge.
“Harry Kane on Sunday and Haaland [tonight], two world-class strikers and goalscorers. This is why you want to be in this league, you are coming up against the best players in the world. City don’t just have Haaland, they have a number of players. This is what we wanted, this is why we worked as hard as we did last season. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
Man City v Nottingham Forest, Live, BT Sport 3, 7.30