Borussia Dortmund recently confirmed the signing of Erling Haaland from RB Salzburg. The 19-year-old comes to BVB with a plethora of goals and chances created, along with a price tag of 20 million euros. His 2019 was quite successful with him bagging 29 goals in a total of 27 games. This incredible output made him one of Europe’s top prospects, and Dortmund were quick to sign him. This scout report looks to understand his strengths and provide some tactical analysis as to where he will best fit into Dortmund’s system.

The 1.94m forward is an attacking sensation this year, where he has 16 goals and six assists in 14 games for Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga. Most impressively, he has contributed to 33% of Salzburg’s goals, despite only playing 60% of the minutes possible this season. His contributions in the Champions League is equally impressive, scoring 8 goals and providing one assist, contributing to a total of 56% of Salzburg’s goals, all within a total of six games.

Attacking Prowess

Haaland’s ability to contribute both with his goals and assists is what made him so in demand. Quite consistently, he is able to connect with his teammates, particularly with his head. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsHaaland’s ability to hold off his defender is seen above. He uses his large frame to shield off his defender. As the defender brings his leg up to win the ball, Haaland brings his head down and flicks the ball into space for his teammate to run into space. His physical prowess was also on display in RB Salzburg’s match against Liverpool in their most recent Champions League match. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsHaaland holds off Jordan Henderson as he settles the ball down. After gaining control, he then draws the attention of four Liverpool defenders before finding a teammate’s feet. Within two quick passes, most of Liverpool’s defence is out of position, and Salzburg has an overload in the middle of the pitch that they were ultimately unable to take advantage of. This type of attention that Haaland warrants will have Lucien Favre anxious to get him into the team as quickly as possible at Dortmund.

Against Genk in the Champions League, Haaland earned an assist through his spacing, patience, and timing. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsTo start, he positions himself perfectly between the right-back and centre-back. The ball gets played into space from the wing and as he runs onto the ball, he is far ahead of his defenders with time to play a pass. However, the young man demonstrated a lot of maturity and patience by taking a couple of touches and allowing his teammate to make a much better run towards the near post. He plays the ball perfectly across Hee-Chan Hwang’s body to his right foot, who finished the chance for Salzburg’s third goal.

Off the ball

When not in possession, Haaland does a magnificent job of finding himself in space. He has a couple of specific moves that he uses consistently in order to find himself with time to receive the ball and make a decision. He will consistently run off of the back shoulders of defenders, causing headaches in the process. Another one of these moves is simply him starting to sprint with a defensive line and then slowing up as the line continues to drop.

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsAgainst Wolfsberg, RB Salzburg has the ball on the left side of the pitch, running into space. The three defenders of Wolfsberg are dropping together, with Haaland following suit, forcing them to continue to drop at pace.

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsAs the defenders watch the ball, Haaland drops off and runs across the outside defender, forcing the defender to make a decision between who to mark — a perfect setup for an attacker. Just by causing his defender to take a second in order to decide, Haaland has created a perfect situation for him and his teammate to take advantage of that indecision. Unfortunately, the cross never made it into the box, but Haaland helped create an opportunity by making space for himself.

Later in the match against Genk, he finds himself between the right-back and centre-back again. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsThis time, Haaland uses his timing, positioning, and strength to score. As the right centre back steps to pressure the midfielder, Haaland takes off into the space that he vacated. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsThe ball gets played from the left flank, again, and this time he seals off the defender by taking two steps to his right before getting to the ball. The only way the defender can do anything at this point is to foul him, which would most certainly be a red card. The defender opts not to foul, and Haaland finishes off his chance for the fourth goal of the night.

Pressing ability

As a centre forward, one of the more important things that Haaland does is begin the team’s press. While his statistics don’t suggest that he is a pressing prodigy, Haaland does the work necessary to set his team up for success. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsHere, Haaland identifies that the centre-back has his back turned to him, which, while watching game film, is clearly a pressing trigger for RB Salzburg. The centre-back now has no option but to play it back to his goalkeeper.

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsAs the ball goes back to the goalkeeper, Haaland begins to press. At this point, the centre back at the top of the image, who originally played the ball, is still an option for the goalkeeper. While many centre-forwards tend to run directly at the goalkeeper, Haaland takes a couple of steps to his left, effectively eliminating the left side of the pitch as an option. The goalkeeper is then forced to send the ball long in the air, where both teams have a chance to win possession.

While he can seem a little over-aggressive at times, his willingness to press is a lot easier to fine-tune as opposed to having to teach the skill. Haaland also makes sure to occupy passing lanes once he’s forced the ball a certain direction.

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsAgainst Liverpool, Haaland closes down Lovren, who was in possession. First off, Haaland has eliminated Van Dijk as an option by getting into the passing lane. As he closes down, Lovren’s only real option to play the ball is Alexander-Arnold. 

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsAs Alexander-Arnold receives the ball, Haaland steps directly into the passing lane, effectively eliminating Lovren as a passing option. Alexander-Arnold is quickly getting closed down, and he is forced to send the ball long to no one in particular. RB Salzburg were able to successfully regain possession.

Fitting in at Dortmund

After a rough patch in the middle of the season, Dortmund have been excelling, and talk of Lucien Favre’s decline was much exaggerated. Previously, BVB were primarily playing in a 4-2-3-1.

Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsHowever, Favre’s changes to the tactics, the 3-4-3, and the personnel above have contributed to them earning 10 of a possible 15 points in their last five Bundesliga matches. When starting in the 3-4-3 in their last five games, BVB have scored nine goals and only conceded three goals.

So the question is, where does Haaland fit in? One issue that may cause some frustration is Salzburg’s use of two strikers in almost every competition they play in. In their past five games, they’ve primarily used a 4-1-3-2, a 4-3-1-2, or a 3-5-2.Erling Haaland 2019/20 -- Scout Report tactical analysis tacticsWhile there may be some growing pains, BVB fans should rest easy: Haaland’s average positioning in each of those games is incredibly close to that of a centre forward a typical 4-3-3. If Dortmund continue with their 4-3-3 formation, which would make sense in terms of their recent successes, Haaland should be able to fit right in.

The main issue with that is Favre would have to put him into that position over Marco Reus, which is an unlikely option. Reus primarily plays as a centre forward but has also played on the left-wing previously. This does open up an option for him to go to the left side of the three-man front line, with Dortmund lining up with a front three of Reus, Haaland, and Jadon Sancho, assuming Dortmund hold onto the young Englishman. If Dortmund do indeed sell Sancho, as it is heavily rumoured, the most likely scenario would be a BVB front line of Reus, Haaland, and Thorgan Hazard, which should still give BVB supporters plenty of goals to dream about for years to come.

Conclusion

Using tactics, this analysis shows that Haaland is a much-coveted talent who made the decision to go to a club that develops young talent incredibly well. Assuming Dortmund’s amazing track record continues, he will help Dortmund’s push to be perennial contenders in the Bundesliga, a competition they haven’t won since the 2011/12 season.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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Carl Elsik