Erling Haaland “has improved” but “can be better”, says Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola ahead of his side’s crunch Champions League second-leg Round of 16 tie with RB Leipzig.
All eyes will therefore be on whether Haaland can make the difference in a European knockout game, and he will be looking to score for the first time in the Champions League since October 5, as a result of a combination of a couple of goalless games, being rested, and injury.
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“I don’t like one player just to be in the box to score goals,” said Guardiola in his pre-match press conference. “Of course, it’s so important [but] it’s not all we need of him.
“When we are away from the opponents’ box and he cannot score a goal we need him to be involved and be active. We have to take a look at him, and he has to be involved in what we are doing.
“And we can improve. [He has improved] a little bit, he can improve better.”
Kevin De Bruyne, also up in front of the assembled media, was asked why Haaland’s scoring rate has dropped off from its blistering early-season levels, and delivered rather more of a defence of the Norwegian’s contribution this term.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything but I don’t think it’s more different than in the beginning,” De Bruyne began. “Other teams are maybe more anticipating his runs, but there’s always a first part and a second part of the season.
“There’s a lot more going on, teams are more organised and play for more at both ends of the table.
“People are more prepared in every sense and maybe he was also a little bit more prolific when we got the chances but we don’t need to complain about Erling in any way. He’s fine.
“He seems fine to me.
“In the last few years people would say there is not enough presence in the box or deep runs and now people say the opposite. In the beginning of the season when everything was going in and we were winning a lot there was nothing going wrong and then when you lose a few points it’s different.
“I don’t think there’s any issue. I’ve not heard anything from the team or Erling or anyone else I know.
Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne
Image credit: Getty Images
“People outside will judge on how we play and maybe sometimes the brand is better in other games or other years but Crystal Palace at home, for instance, he won us the game.
“The team is really happy with him, he’s really happy playing with us.”
The tie represents another litmus test for whether City can finally win the Champions League – a fact not lost on Guardiola.
“Absolutely I will be judged for that competition,” the ex-Barcelona boss said. “Because since day one I arrived here and the first game in the Champions League, they told me: you are here to win the Champions League.
“I said ‘what?’ If I was manager of Real Madrid, this is not going to happen, but I could understand.
“But I accept it. As much as you go through it’s not going to change that.”
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