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Erling Haaland struggled in draw at Real Madrid, but don’t expect the same in Manchester for second leg

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Real Madrid had a wild match Tuesday allowing three goals to Manchester City from outside the box in a 3-3 draw in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg, but none of them were scored by Erling Haaland. While the Norwegian has been ever-present with 30 goals and six assists, 2024 has not been up to his usual lofty standards. There are a few reasons for this as City’s matches have been tougher with the Premier League title in the balance and they’re advancing deeper into Champions League play meaning that the opposition there is also tougher especially going away to Madrid in a match that’s fit to be a final.

Touches are usually something looked at to determine a striker’s effectiveness, but while Haaland had the fewest touches of any starter in the match against Real Madrid with only 20, that’s pretty normal for Haaland. In the Premier League and Champions League, he only averages 22 touches per game as it doesn’t take many chances for Haaland to create danger. In fact, some of his most effective matches this season have come during his fewest touches like having 15 to net a brace against Young Boys

But if touches don’t explain it, we have to move to a stat that’s more correlated with attacking presence — shots. Haaland averages 4.16 shots per game that he starts in the Premier League and Champions League but Real Madrid held him to one. This is only the fourth time this season that Haaland has started a match and been held to one or fewer shots in these competitions. What’s even more interesting is that three of these four matches have happened in 2024. 

There is a growing narrative that Haaland can go missing in big games where teams have strong enough midfielders to cut off his supply and there’s merit to that as the three matches in 2024 where he’s been held with one or fewer shots are facing Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid. If you make a list of the top 10 teams in the world, all of them would be included. All of those matches were also away from the friendly confines of the Etihad Stadium.

Haaland is far from a player that only scores against poor teams as he has been involved against top sides but facing them away from home has been a challenge. With the second leg in Manchester, and likely to have Kevin De Bruyne back in the lineup, this does mean that Los Blancos can rest on their laurels, not that Carlo Ancelotti would allow them to after conceding three goals. 

Part of the issue with committing numbers to stop Haaland and Aurelien Tchouameni’s early yellow card is that it leaves more space outside of the box which City exploited. With Tchouameni now suspended for the second leg due to yellow card accumulation, Real Madrid will need a tactical rethink or Haaland will get his goals in the return leg on April 17.

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