Man City vs Man Utd: Ten Hag, Lisandro Martínez have stopped Haaland before
As United prepare to face City and Erling Haaland, Erik ten Hag and Lisandro Martínez know they have previous experience of keeping the Norwegian out.
On Sunday at 2pm local time (3pm ET), referee Michael Oliver will get the season’s opening Manchester derby up and running. In a box-office clash on the first round of Premier League fixtures since the September international break, City and United will go head to head for three points - and for the bragging rights in a city where the Sky Blues have become the dominant force over the past decade.
Haaland the chief City threat to United
United go into the game still recovering from their terrible start to the season, and a victory against City would serve to bolster a new project that has struggled to get going under the command of new head coach Erik ten Hag. Once Goliath themselves, United head to the Etihad Stadium in the role of David. Armed with faith but few cold, hard reasons for optimism, the Red Devils will look to get the most out of their best assets (Christian Eriksen, Antony...), rescue Cristiano Ronaldo from his goal drought, and neutralise their opponents’ stars. City have quite the constellation - and the brightest of all is Erling Haaland.
“If you could piece together the perfect centre forward in a laboratory, Haaland would be pretty close to the finished product,” Arsenal legend Martin Keown wrote in his Daily Mail column on Saturday. Faced with a near-flawless striker, United are preparing for a defensive duel which, in the UK, has been earmarked as Sunday’s individual David-versus-Goliath clash: Haaland’s dance partner looks like being Lisandro Martínez.
Between the two, there is a significant height difference. Haaland is 6ft 4in tall, while United centre-back Martínez measures just 5ft 9in. That’s important, but if the duel is going to be played more on the deck than in the air, then not staggeringly so. Although Haaland’s aerial finishing is felt to have enormous potential, it’s not his best weapon. Only two of the 14 goals he has scored for City have come with his head. In the 22-year-old’s career so far, headed goals represent just 12 of his total of 149. Martínez will have to stop him from shooting and, importantly, shooting first time. That’s something the Norwegian is particularly good at. His left foot has been his chief weapon at City, accounting for nine goals, and on paper represents the greatest danger. However, the Argentine has kept Haaland out in the past.
Martínez, Ten Hag secured shutout against Haaland’s Dortmund
In October 2021, an Ajax side coached by Ten Hag welcomed Borussia Dortmund to Amsterdam in the Champions League, with Haaland leading the line for the Germans. The hosts lined up with Martínez alongside Jurriën Timber at the heart of the defence and, between them, they stopped him from scoring. Ajax’s plan that day has been prominent in the discussion in the British media, which has highlighted the collective defensive organisation that stemmed the flow of balls towards the striker. By isolating Haaland and effectively dealing with the moments in which Dortmund did find him, Ajax laid the platform for a 4-0 victory.
Now, Ten Hag and Martínez are tasked with keeping Haaland out once more - but face one of the best tacticians in world football, Pep Guardiola, whose promises to the forward about his ability to slot into City’s system were fully justified. Haaland has shown that he doesn’t need too many touches to be decisive and is prepared for possible isolation tactics. “I have a feeling that if he is not involved in the game, he is always there,” Guardiola has said of the player. Haaland’s team-mates know all it takes is a couple of good deliveries for the striker to put United to the sword. Lisandro and Ten Hag have already stopped him once, but the service Haaland enjoys at City tilts the odds in his favour. Goliath now has superior accompaniment.