There’s a familiar kind of goal that Manchester City score under Pep Guardiola that involves slowly keeping possession around the edge of the box, waiting for an opening, before slipping in a runner to square for a simple finish from close range.
Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero scored plenty of goals by being in the right position, and opposition sides have tried for years to combat the movement but seemingly don’t have an answer.
After the summer overhaul, City have arguably lost some key players to carry out the movements needed to score that trademark goal – players like Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Aleks Zinchenko. As a result, other players like Bernardo Silva are playing in slightly different roles, and the cutback goal has had to be replaced by another kind of goal that is playing to the strengths of the new-look squad.
Against Wolves on Saturday, two of the three goals were practically identical, following on from another mirrored move against Sevilla and other similar goals against Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace.
Pivotal to this new move is Erling Haaland, unsurprisingly, who is a reliable presence in the penalty area to provide that finishing touch – a final touch he’s registered 14 times already in a City shirt. Haaland has already silenced the tiresome debate around his supposed lack of touches, although a look at the 29 goals City have scored already this season shows he is playing a quietly effective role in City’s build-up play.
The third goal at Wolves saw Phil Foden free Kevin De Bruyne to drive towards goal. He played in Haaland on the right of the area, who checked back and waited for De Bruyne to provide an overlap. When he did, the ball was perfect to allow the cross for Foden to cleverly flick home after running into the space Haaland had vacated. It was an impressive goal that showed the ever-increasing relationship between the three players.
In fact, of City’s 29 goals, 22 have involved at least one of Haaland, De Bruyne and Foden – whether that be the goal, assist, or the pass to set up the assist. Ten goals have seen at least two of the three players combine, and three have seen all three players combine to score.
That figure would have increased to four goals if Haaland had connected with De Bruyne’s overlapping cross in the opening minute at Wolves, found by Foden’s backheel. The ball went behind Haaland, but luckily Jack Grealish was on hand to convert. Still, it showed how Foden and De Bruyne are beginning to form a devastating partnership, especially on the right, to creating crossing opportunities for eachother, with Haaland always ready to convert.
Haaland’s first goal in the 4-0 win at Sevilla was a classic example of this new trademark goal, with De Bruyne finding Foden, continuing his run behind the defence, taking the return pass, and finding Haaland infront of goal [top image]. Another goal involving all three was scored in the comeback win against Crystal Palace, although De Bruyne and Foden were on opposite flanks. Then, De Bruyne’s deep cross was headed on by Julian Alvarez to Foden, who sent the ball back in for Haaland to head home.
In the main, Foden has been a left winger in the last two years. This season, though, he has drifted more into the centre at times, and even began to start on the right. When he does move away from that left wing, he has six involvements in goals (including those pre-assists), from a total of 11 in nine games.
Of Foden’s contributions, he’s been active in seven moves leading to goals with De Bruyne and seven with Haaland. Between Haaland and De Bruyne, the pair have been involved in six moves together.
It’s clear that Haaland’s addition and reliability to finish chances is allowing De Bruyne to thrive, and Foden’s positional change is helping him do that. It might look simple for Foden or De Bruyne to combine on the right to cross for Haaland, but there is plenty of subtle movements from all three players to create the spac