How Erling Haaland Achieved a State of Confidence and Relaxation to Support Man City Against Forest, According to IAN LADYMAN


We probably would have expected a result like this but we would not have predicted it to come about in quite this way.

Nottingham Forest were full of energy and menace and ambition, while Manchester City were probably as sluggish and out of sorts as we have seen them for some time.

City won, though, and did so with something to spare in the end. And why? Because Forest centre forward Chris Wood made the art of scoring goals look desperately difficult while Erling Haaland arrived as a substitute to make it look so devastatingly easy.

With City lacking their usual control of a game and Forest sensing that, you would not have bet against the home team had they entered the final third of the game on level terms. But they could not quite make it happen.

Erling Haaland’s goal was achingly beautiful, just nine minutes after coming off the bench

Forest's leading goal scorer made the art of putting the ball in the back of the net look desperately difficult

Forest’s leading goal scorer made the art of putting the ball in the back of the net look desperately difficult

While Wood snatched like a juvenile at his chances, Haaland did not look like a player who had only scored twice since early March

While Wood snatched like a juvenile at his chances, Haaland did not look like a player who had only scored twice since early March

Haaland, meanwhile, scored an achingly beautiful goal. With Wood — a striker of no little experience — snatching like a juvenile at his chances, all anxiety and uncertainty, Haaland did not look like a man who had scored in only two games since the start of March.

The Norwegian seemed to slip in to that dreamlike state of certainty and relaxation that all elite athletes yearn for as he drifted through with 19 minutes to go to seal the victory. It was centre forward play at its best.

So despite all the drama of this wonderful title race, Pep Guardiola’s City remain in charge and in control of all the vital statistics. If they win their next four games — Wolves at home, away to Fulham and Spurs, West Ham at home — they will win the Premier League title for the fourth consecutive year. That, as we know, has never been done before.

Now Liverpool have disappeared from the race, City and Arsenal are setting about the task of trying to win these things in different ways. Arsenal’s journey is emotional, dramatic and utterly compelling. 

City, meanwhile, continue to oscillate in terms of form but not enough to stop them winning. They have not lost in the league since early December and that, as much as anything, may be what gets them over the line.

Here at the City Ground, they were unrecognisable at times. Forest started with a raid down the left that could have brought Neco Williams a goal when Ola Aina’s cross reached him. That shot didn’t require saving by City goalkeeper Ederson and that quickly became a pattern.

Aina, a 27-year-old Nigerian, troubled City captain Kyle Walker all afternoon but when it mattered Forest could not find the right finish, or indeed make the right decision, when it mattered. Maybe they will blame the referee.

Forest also have a grim record of conceding from set-pieces and that got them once again here. Apart from a low shot from Kevin De Bruyne that needed saving by Matz Sels in the ninth minute, City had not really threatened before Jack Grealish won a corner in the 28th minute.

The champions were lacking their usual control over the game and the hosts could sense it

The champions were lacking their usual control over the game and the hosts could sense it

With a game in hand over Arsenal, Pep Guardiola's side remain in charge of their own destiny

With a game in hand over Arsenal, Pep Guardiola’s side remain in charge of their own destiny

Haaland appeared to slip in to that dreamlike state of certainty and relaxation that all elite athletes yearn for

Haaland appeared to slip in to that dreamlike state of certainty and relaxation that all elite athletes yearn for

Ola Aina troubled Manchester City's captain Kyle Walker down City's right throughout the game

Ola Aina troubled Manchester City’s captain Kyle Walker down City’s right throughout the game

Josko Gvardiol ran far too easily across Morgan Gibbs-White to score the opener at the near post

Josko Gvardiol ran far too easily across Morgan Gibbs-White to score the opener at the near post

Williams was injured in the tackle and that may well be the Welshman’s season done. Within a minute, Forest were behind, Josko Gvardiol running off Morgan Gibbs-White and across the young Brazilian Murillo to head in at the near post.

It was the 23rd set-piece goal conceded by Forest this season and it came too easily to City.

Earlier, Ederson had suffered a couple of difficult moments of his own as crosses arrived, and he was injured in one such collision with Willy Boly to such a degree that he did not appear for the second half. Calls for a penalty from Forest were off the mark, though. The two players merely seemed to collide with each other with almost identical force.

Forest should still have equalised, regardless. Another cross from Aina reached the far post in the 38th minute and found Williams’ replacement Gonzalo Montiel in space. He passed back inside neatly towards Wood but the Kiwi could only make scant contact with his right foot, dragging the ball across goal and so wide it did not even go out of play.

That felt like a huge moment and there were others to follow. Murillo hooked the ball up and over from no distance at all in first-half stoppage time after Ederson had erred again under pressure, before Wood failed himself and his team for a second time two minutes after the break.

This time it was Anthony Elanga who embarrassed Walker to reach the byline and pass back and inside. If the earlier chance had been presented on a plate to Wood then this one came with a side salad. 

Once again, though, the contact was nowhere near firm enough and Gvardiol was able to hack the ball away with City substitute goalkeeper Stefan Ortega poised to save it anyway.

Ortega was one of two half-time changes for City. Mateo Kovacic had also come on for Jeremy Doku. With Phil Foden absent sick and John Stones only on the bench, City dug into their deep reserves of talent to grind this one out.

Man City goalkeeper Ederson and Nottingham Forest defender Willy Boly collided before the break

Man City goalkeeper Ederson and Nottingham Forest defender Willy Boly collided before the break

Midfielder Mateo Kovacic came on at the break as City dug into their reserves to secure the win

Midfielder Mateo Kovacic came on at the break as City dug into their reserves to secure the win

Nottingham Forest looked an improved team but it is hard not to think they are destined for a final day shootout at Burnley

Nottingham Forest looked an improved team but it is hard not to think they are destined for a final day shootout at Burnley

Haaland had been sent on for Grealish. Much has been said about the striker’s uncertain form so when De Bruyne played him through the inside right channel, it asked the big forward a question. The answer came via a deft left-foot touch that took the ball past and round Murillo and a swish of the right that passed it across and beyond Sels into the corner.

It was made to look so simple when we all knew that it was not and it effectively signalled the end of the contest.

Forest have been better of late and 14 shots told us a little about that. It seems highly likely that they will face a final-day survival shootout against Burnley at Turf Moor, though.

City, meanwhile, are where they want to be. On the shoulder of leaders Arsenal, their breathing heavy with menace.



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