Man United face acid test


Man City's Erling Haaland is a joy to watch in full flight, something the Red Devils might want to put a stop to. — AFP

MANCHESTER United, despite their recent resurgence under Erik ten Hag, will almost certainly face the wrath of Norway’s Erling Haaland tomorrow.

The 22-year-old Leeds-born striker, who joined Manchester City in a £51mil (RM255mil) move from Borussia Dortmund in the off-season, has scored 11 goals in his first seven league matches for the Citizens.

That’s a fantastic return, regardless of who is doing the math. And when you throw into the equation his form in the Champions League, the value of the lad goes through the roof.

But despite his phenomenal start to life at the Etihad, City’s Spanish team boss Pep Guardiola has laboured in recent weeks to make the point that the champions are not a one-man team.

Indeed, City are not. And that’s because Kevin De Bruyne appears to have found a second wind after the injuries in the 2021 Champions League final and Euro 2020.

There has been much discussion about his linking up with Haaland, whom he has assisted on more than one occasion in the brief period they have played together so far. De Bruyne has six assists in his six league starts this campaign.

With Rodri’s 647 passes and Ederson’s four clean sheets, City top the four key stats in the league, to date.

But even then, that is not all. The coming into form of Jack Grealish is another big positive for Guardiola – one that should be a worry for Man United.

The England midfielder, who cost City £100mil (RM450mil), has taken his time settling in after his move from Aston Villa just over a year ago.

But he has shown good form recently, repaying Guardiola’s faith in him, and he should be one that Man United definitely keep a wary eye on while he is in the side.

It is unlikely that Guardiola will make wholesale changes to his starting XI, unless he is forced to do so by injuries to his star players on their return from international duty this week.

This means that Joao Cancelo, IIkay Gundogan, Kyle Walker and Ruben Dias will almost surely get the nod to start at the Etihad tomorrow.

Despite City’s sleekness, one gets the impression that Man United will not be intimidated by the occasion this time.

Since ten Hag took over and established his own rules, the Red Devils appear to be a different team than the one that was knocked from pillar to post – by anyone who cared – under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and those who came before him in the time after Alex Ferguson retired some 10 years ago.

There is no doubt that the off-season signings of Antony, Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Tyrell Malacia, as well as free agent Christian Eriksen, have had a significant impact on how this team now plays.

They appear a cohesive unit under ten Hag, playing with purpose and composure, albeit with Harry Maguire consigned to the bench – and to some extent with Fred and Cristiano Ronaldo sitting alongside him.

Facing the champions in their own backyard is a tall order for any team, even the Big Six.

So this will be a good test to see if Man United do have the character and resolve to make it into the top-four in this campaign, something they failed dismally to achieve last season.

In fact, it could be enough of a test to see if they have the credentials, or at least some of them, to challenge for the title, which has eluded them for over a decade.

This is not something one should be associating with a club that sees and talks about itself as the biggest in the world, yet it is. And it is also one that last week confirmed they had a wage bill of £384.2mil (RM1.92bil) in the 2021-22 season – a record high in Premiership history.

And that’s why many feel Man United will need more than ever to get “a result” at the Etihad tomorrow. But it may not be that easy, not if young Mr Haaland has his way and does his stuff up front.

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