Premier League English

Haaland is ‘probably the difference’ in title race

Manchester City striker Erling Haaland reaffirmed “it is good to be back” after his goal helped his side to a critical victory victory against Nottingham Forest.

The Norwegian striker had missed out on City’s midweek success at Brighton in the league and the FA Cup semi-final win against Chelsea last week because of a muscle injury. However, his return to the side off the bench helped soothe ruffled nerves when he calmly took the ball around a defender and coolly slotted into the left corner nine minutes after coming on as a substitute at the City Ground on Sunday. The subsequent 2-0 victory sealed the deal after what had been a rather uneasy afternoon for last year’s Treble winners.

This latest win sees City returning to being one point behind Premier League leaders Arsenal, and with a game in hand. City’s talismanic forward has been out for a number of games this term and has struggled at times to repeat the scoring consistency that in 2022-23 saw him break the record for the most Premier League goals scored in a season – with 36 in 35 appearances.

The Norwegian star has faced criticism this season  for his ability on the ball away from scoring goals, particularly with the likes of former Manchester United captain Roy Keane who ludicrously criticised him of appearing at times “almost like a League Two player”.

Despite that harsh criticism, Haaland’s instinct and potency in front of goal clearly show why he is still the Premier League’s top scorer with 21 goals.

“Haaland is a goalscorer, simple as that,” said former Newcastle, Tottenham and England winger Chris Waddle on BBC Radio 5 Live.

“He isn’t known for his link-up play, dribbling or skills – he is a goalscorer and that is what he is good at.

“It was a good finish and he passed it into the bottom corner – with him coming back he will probably be the difference.”

Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards said on Sky Sports: “Haaland made a difference. His all-round play was excellent.

“There will be times when you’re not at your best, but at the key moments they get the job done and that is exactly what City did.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola himself admitted they were “lucky” with a “difficult” win at Forest.

Guardiola said it was “important” to have Haaland back in the side as last season’s champions enter the final phase of this term with four league games remaining.

“Kevin found him and it was a really good finish,” Guardiola said of Haaland’s goal. “He was not ready for 90 minutes, but it was good for him to be back.”

Haaland told Sky Sports: “It’s an important win, it does not matter how we do it, and it is good to be back.

“We knew it was going to be a fight, and the pitch was not the easiest to play on but we cannot complain. It is about winning and that is exactly what we did.”