How do you take out top striker Haaland? ‘Defending well is something you do together’
The Champions League continues tonight (9 p.m.) with the quarterfinals. With a great clash between Manchester City and Bayern Munich. The task for Bayern – and Matthijs de Ligt – is to stop cannonball Erling Haaland. But how do you stop one of the best strikers in the world?
If you search on Google for “how to stop Haaland” you get over 10 million hits, including an “instructional video” from the German Bundesliga.
Haaland already scored 44 goals in 38 games in his first season at City, including 10 in the Champions League in six games. So that question is not so crazy. But the answer possibly is, because: to stop Haaland, do you have to focus on… Haaland?
Newly appointed Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel was asked at the press conference how he thinks he can fight Haaland. The coach replied with an anecdote.
“I once had the privilege of talking to Johan Cruijff. He told me how they dealt with a striker they could never control at Barcelona. ‘We stopped covering him then,’ he told me. That player hasn’t scored since then when they stopped covering him.”
“By creating a situation that someone is not expecting, you can indeed take someone off his game,” says psychologist Bram Meurs, who works a lot with soccer players.
Again, he can imagine someone like Haaland taking advantage of that. “If he is not covered, you give him freedom, in which you possibly overshoot your goal because he will score even better.
Tuchel quotes Cruijffian wisdom about Haaland: ‘Just don’t shadow’
What Meurs sees more in is some kind of disruption in the team around the top striker. Last year on June 9, Haaland played for Norway against Slovenia in the Nations League. Haaland played the full ninety minutes, but failed to score, remaining 0-0.
National coach Matjaž Kek then told The Athletic that there is only one way to stop Haaland: to stop his teammates. “I cannot stress this enough: every team needs someone to get Haaland balls and Norway is not just him,” Kek said.
Psychologist Meurs knows that, in general, players who get frustrated during the game will perform less. “But then you have to know what frustrates someone. And you can really only know someone better if you hang out with them day in and day out, like in the locker room.”
Bayern defender De Ligt calls Haaland “perhaps the best striker in the world.” He feels the pressure to stop him, but is also realistic: “You can’t stop him with one man, our whole team has to do that collectively.”
Kees van Wonderen, Heerenveen coach and former Feyenoord central defender, agrees. He calls man coverage out of date. “Haaland plays in a very well organized team, which puts him in position to be playable in different ways in the 16. So when you take the output out of City, it becomes more difficult for Haaland as well.”
Van Wonderen stood out at the time with his slim build, or “not a typical physically imposing build” as he calls it himself. “Defending well on a team like City you do all together, because the better you defend and work together at the back the better you can stop a dangerous player. You should never bet everything on a one-on-one situation, or make it a personal battle. Make sure you read the game and stay mentally calm.”
After all, there is quite a lot involved in a game at such a high level.
De Ligt: ‘For analysis Haaland, I don’t need footage’
“There are two top teams facing each other with an awful lot of qualities,” Meurs said. “The team that makes the best use of those qualities tonight and thus is mentally the strongest will probably win.” The big question then is: who can best handle the pressure?
“I don’t think there is a stronger opponent than Manchester City,” De Ligt said. “I can hardly wait for this match to start, but knowing that it will be very complicated.”