Should Leeds go for Håland?
In short: Yes.
The summer transfer window is going at a snails’ pace for the Whites at the moment as the Vydra deal takes another toll and the goalkeeper situation worsening, supporters are getting worried as the first pre-season friendly approaches. Fans worry that Bielsa will repeat what he did at Lazio having left two days into the job with promises not kept by the board. Deals need to happen fast as the current squad is clearly not good enough to challenge for a promotion-winning spot to the Premiership.
Although many have pointed out that it is only early July, when you look at teams such as Nottingham Forest who have been spending big, coupled with a shorter window for permanent arrivals, it becomes clear that Leeds need to get moving to make sure that new players get time with the team during preseason.
The new wave in world football is the wonder-kid son of former Leeds centre-half Alf-Inge Håland, who has caused a storm with his surge of goals against league leaders Brann. The seventeen year old striker scored four goals inside twenty-one minutes before following up with two goals and an assist after seventy minutes of play.
So, how would the seventeen year-old fit into Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3? First of all, he is another versatile player who is capable of playing on the wing or in behind the striker, but his best and far most focused position is as the number nine. Håland is a nicely rounded front-man, standing at around 1.9 metres (6 foot 2 inches) but is rapid in pace. If you watch his goals away at Brann, you can see his serious speed though does currently possess a lankier build which some argue isn’t for English football but players like Aston Villa’s Kodjia make it work. Though this doesn’t necessarily mean there is a lack of physical presence, I’m sure his father, who famously battled with Roy Keane, taught him a few things. Young Håland likes to get the job done when it comes to taking chances, his first goal against Brann starts with correct positioning and movement.
He is right in-between Brann’s two last defenders with plenty of space to react to where the ball may come. The flick-on arrives in his path and he reacts quickest, his blistering pace pulls him away from the defenders who try to close the gaps. He only has to take two touches; one around the keeper; one to finish, and that was it, 1-0.
His second goal shows excellent wing play as he chases onto a long ball on the counter for Molde. Receiving the ball on the right side of the field, and takes one touch to bring the ball down roughly 25-30 yards from goal. He quickly sweeps the ball by the defender’s right side and just about kept his balance while racing past his left. He carries the ball into the box before slotting the ball past the keeper as reinforcements arrive. All of this was done with five touches of the ball inside five seconds from receiving the ball on the wing and the ball crossing the line.
Håland’s third goal is very similar to the first in that he is placed between the two last defenders with another in-front of him roughly forty yards from goal. The defender ahead of Håland charges towards the oncoming ball but barely made contact, thus starting the race of reactions for the loose ball. Of course the Norwegian striker reacted first, letting the ball run across his body before chasing it down with the keeper rushing out of his box to slide in. Håland won this race too as he brings the ball out of the keeper’s path with the outside of his foot, adding one more touch to set himself before coolly slotting home again. He added a fourth on 21 minutes with a fantastic penalty, waiting for the keeper to choose a way to dive before he finished low into the other corner.
Bielsa’s lone striker must be able to move across the pitch quickly and correctly for where the ball could be played. He should be well rounded in taking the ball in different situations, as the ball could come in from high crosses, low, driven crosses, cut-back passes from the by-line, receiving the ball wide, or through on goal.
Of course we have already seen Håland’s ability through on goal, as a striker we would hope he can head the ball well (meaning we haven’t found such a clip online) though we have seen some of his goals in youth football and youth internationals where he has ticked the cut-back box and created a whole new box to tick: half-way line goals. Plus he ticks the wide position box too. Although we haven’t seen loads of him, Håland looks a cool customer as he continues to grow into what seems like a great attacker.
If he were to play as the lone striker of a 3-3-1-3, he would have multiple jobs to perform which he could definitely fulfill as he develops. In terms of the wingers either side of him, Håland will look to get between the centre-halves as the wingers can play low or high crosses at the by-line or at the back left or right corner of the 18 yard box. From these crosses he looks to move between the defenders for space to receive the ball on his head or pull away from them both for a low, slotted finish. If the ball were to be cut back to him then he may look to stick between the centre-backs before dropping off his run for the space around the penalty area.
Håland can push wide or drop deep so that the number ten can push as a false nine or striker. If Håland were to push wide, the gap in the midfield can be filled by the one wing back with their winger who has support from the striker.
For example: if Saiz were to push to a false nine and Håland decided to push wide towards Pablo Hernandez’s left side to support rather than drop deep; then Tom Pearce would come inside to support the centre of midfield should their be a counter. Should the winger be in this situation he could also take up the place of the number ten which would keep Tom Pearce where he is.
Another possibility is that Saiz pushes as a striker and instead of changing position, Håland stays where he is and the wingers drop slightly deeper, one from the defensive five, most likely a centre-back supports the holding midfielder to create a 4-4-2 or other inter-changable shapes depending on attacking intentions. These changes are a big part of the fluid football that Bielsa likes to play where each player must be versatile to at least a couple of positions as the pack may shuffle during an attacking play.
As complex as it sounds, it shouldn’t be so difficult to re-shuffle though the difficulty is the organisation of the defence when hit on the counter if the fluid movement and football be cut out. All of the best teams, Manchester City for example, stop counters where they are vulnerable at the back by quickly stopping it before the ball reaches their own half, which usually ends up being a foul. A worry from this tactic is that with a small squad, suspensions can became frequent and frankly, Bielsa should consider having more players at his disposal than usual, though this can be done through the academy.
Håland is currently on the Manchester United radar and should be snapped up quickly to avoid disappointment and instead save money. This lad has serious potential and at an academy like Leeds United, under a manager such as Bielsa, he can have a bright future, but the Whites board need to stick their noses out.