Pep Guardiola has said Manchester City may be willing to take risks with the fitness of Erling Haaland to ensure their top goalscorer is available to face Liverpool on Saturday. The Norwegian striker missed his country's two European Championship qualifiers over the international break due to a groin injury which City have been assessing.
Any decision on Haaland's availability will not be made until after City's final training session on Friday afternoon, scarcely more than 18 hours before they take to the Etihad Stadium field against their great rivals from Merseyside. Dropped points against Liverpool could be a hammer blow for City's title bid, handing Arsenal the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table to double figures.
"Life is risks and sometimes you have to take it," said Guardiola. "The doctors and, especially, the player will see how he feels. We have scored a lot of goals this season and he has scored an incredible amount of goals. But we've always scored a lot of goals since we've been here."
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In almost any other position on the pitch, Guardiola might swiftly conclude that any gamble on a player's fitness for the remainder of the season is not worth taking. His options in central defense, midfield and wide forward areas are plentiful even with Phil Foden out for three weeks. Haaland, however, is another matter entirely.
Since signing the striker for €60 million from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, City have radically restructured their playing style in service to Haaland. A return of 42 goals in just 37 appearances across all competitions suggests that the compromises that have come with this new approach were worth making... even if there are some questions as to whether this new found heliocentricism makes them a little easier for the very best opponents to suss out.
How do City cope without Haaland if he is indeed missing on Saturday, or indeed if he picks up another issue during what is shaping up to be a hectic run of games across three competitions? So far, they have done reasonably well, winning six and drawing one of the eight games where he has not been in the starting XI. However two of those have been low stake Champions League group stage matches and four have come in domestic cups. They are two of two in Premier League matches without Haaland but only because he came off the bench to score an added time penalty against Fulham.
Julian Alvarez might have gotten a goal in that game, but on both occasions he has stepped into the fray for Haaland in the Premier League the World Cup winner has struggled, whether through a lack of service or his own difficulties winning individual battles with rugged center backs. Even the 23-year-old backup striker seems to exist in service to Haaland, certainly many of his best performances in a City shirt have come alongside his fellow striker rather than in place of him.
The players Guardiola would need to get back to the City of before are largely all there if one considers Alvarez to be an approximation for what Gabriel Jesus offered before joining Arsenal. But that team was a piece of precision engineering. The squad has the talent to get back there given time on the training field but that is the one thing they won't have over the next few weeks. City have developed into a team that serves Haaland's needs first and foremost, it may not be as easy to restore the everybody eats offense of previous seasons if they need to. The coming hours will reveal just how necessary a stylistic adjustment will be.