The phrases got here from Jurgen Klopp’s mouth however it may have been Pep Guardiola talking. “He’s a different striker to what we have or what we had, but he’s a really good one,” mentioned the Liverpool supervisor. He was speaking about Darwin Nunez whereas Guardiola might spend a lot of Manchester City’s season discussing Erling Haaland.
Their flagship signings are the kinds of gamers they neither had nor, maybe, wanted. City and Liverpool scored a mixed whole of 297 targets final season. Very few got here from precise strikers: with Gabriel Jesus rebranding himself without any consideration winger, arguably none of City’s 150 did. Maybe solely Divock Origi, who was accountable for six of Liverpool’s 147, certified as a standard centre-forward at Anfield. Diogo Jota may excel within the center in his personal trend, Sadio Mane proved a exceptional success as a No. 9 and Roberto Firmino stays Anfield’s definitive false 9. But arguably none would have met conventional descriptions of a centre-forward.
Enter strapping six-footers who could be outlined by their scoring statistics. “His numbers are remarkable,” mentioned Guardiola of Haaland: 115 targets in 116 appearances for Borussia Dortmund and RB Salzburg, with higher than one a recreation within the Champions League. A basic distinction between hanging additions is that Nunez has solely reached that degree of efficiency for one season, yielding 34 targets for Benfica final 12 months.
The Uruguayan is the older man however arguably much less confirmed. He is the dearer: a £64 million payment may rise to a membership document £85m if add-ons are triggered, whereas Haaland had a £51m launch clause at Borussia Dortmund – although Nunez’s wages are considerably decrease.
Comparisons are inevitable, even when Klopp jokingly tried to deflect them final week. “One is left-footed, the other is right-footed,” he mentioned. “One is from Norway, the other one is from Uruguay; they are big differences.” Nevertheless, if there’s a temptation to invoice each the Community Shield and the marketing campaign as a complete as a straight shootout between them, there are causes to assume it’s not fairly so simple as that.
And not merely as a result of the three seasons Mohamed Salah gained or shared the Golden Boot have been all years City gained the title; Guardiola’s mannequin of sharing the targets round has confirmed there’s another formulation. At each golf equipment, there’s the query if the try and make them higher, so as to add one other dimension, as an alternative prices them among the chemistry that has made them so compelling.
If Haaland turns into the penalty-box presence City have largely lacked since Sergio Aguero’s physique started to betray him, they are going to have one fewer diminutive technician to interchange positions in intoxicating method. At Anfield, a formation was constructed round Firmino, whose willingness to forage in midfield allowed Klopp to make use of slim, goalscoring wingers. While Nunez’s Benfica targets confirmed a passion for making Mane-like bursts within the inside-left channel, the inverted ahead line could also be no extra.
For every supervisor, the problem is to combine and accommodate the costly arrival, to tinker with the blueprint with out eradicating too lots of its present benefits.
In their other ways, Guardiola and Klopp have been the 2 best scourges of the striker in Premier League historical past. The false 9 felt extra of an ideological desire for the Catalan and a tactical resolution for the German however they each made it work stunningly nicely.
In Klopp’s case, it appeared extra about one participant – Firmino – whereas Guardiola had a rotating solid of false nines. A curiosity is that each have labored productively with the excellent real No. 9 of the final decade, in Robert Lewandowski. Haaland could be the most interesting of the following 10 years, although he could possibly be burdened with completely different comparisons: with City’s document scorer Aguero and the goal man Guardiola quickly discarded at Barcelona, in Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Now he has instructed City will alter their type of play to swimsuit an aerial presence within the field. “He has to adapt to our play and of course we are going to adapt,” the City supervisor mentioned final week. “With his movements and quality in the box we are going to try to put as much balls as possible in the box.” Haaland marked his unveiling by saying he hoped City’s greatest crosser, Kevin de Bruyne, will get extra assists this season. The Belgian was the highest scorer final season, customising his recreation to compensate for the shortage of a specialist finisher.
It is notable, too, that Guardiola offered the winger who doubled up as a poacher, in Raheem Sterling. Those duties can revert to a striker now. Perhaps the dynamic will change at Liverpool, too: Luis Diaz excelled with out scoring many targets final season and, whereas their high scorers in current seasons have tended to be the 2 wingers, now it could be the striker and Salah.
At every, a recalibration might have begun. Nunez scored 4 occasions in a pre-season cameo in opposition to Leipzig, albeit after a obvious miss on debut in opposition to Manchester United. Haaland marked his unofficial City bow with a winner in opposition to Bayern Munich. They have been predatory strikes. They are early indications the newcomers promise targets, even when it stays to be seen if there’s a trade-off in what groups primarily based across the collective lose in different areas.
But maybe there’s a cyclical factor to it. In their idiosyncratic methods, Guardiola and Klopp reinvented soccer by eradicating the centre ahead. Now, by restoring a staple of sides for many years, they might have tied their fortunes this season to new gamers and a really outdated thought.