Can Erling Haaland be the difference-maker for City in their Champions League quest? Gündoğan certainly hopes so. “He is a weapon that we haven’t had for a few years: a central striker who is powerful, edgy but also fast – and who always has a feel for where the ball will land and can strike it well to score.
“That’s something that is clearly an incredible quality. Naturally we hope he can help us take our chances in those decisive moments. That’s one reason, but not the only reason, why the club signed him. We’re pleased that so far it has worked out and it’s up to us to build on that and give him the support needed so that he can make the difference when we’re playing in those knockout games.”
Haaland has a magnificent record in the competition, having reached 28 goals from his first 22 outings with his double against Copenhagen in the group stage. Even so, some have questioned the impact of such a centre-forward on the attacking patterns of a team accustomed to playing with a false nine – a role Gündoğan himself has filled more than once.
Reflecting on the tactical switch, the German international says, “For me, the style of play changes depending on if I know someone is up front, in the centre, who can play solidly in space and who you know can use their speed to reach the ball perfectly virtually every time. Haaland loves to do this. I watched him when he was at Dortmund and saw that he was incredibly dynamic in those sprints, and he’s shown that quality again several times at the start of this season.
“He’s not a ‘false number nine’ as we sometimes say, like Gabriel Jesus was, but he’s someone who really enjoys running through to the front, where he can make a difference. That’s a quality that will take us far because we have players who can play the ball a long way. That’s a quality that Kevin [De Bruyne] has, for example, and that’s something that can be the deciding factor in close matches.
“You might have to defend for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, but then you have someone who can get themselves forward when you win the ball. And that’s really cool.”