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    MARTIN KEOWN: Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk showed how to deal with Erling Haaland | Daily Mail Online

    The only two occasions Erling Haaland has failed to score or assist a goal for Manchester City this season were against Liverpool — in the Community Shield and the Premier League. 

    Jurgen Klopp‘s entire defence were exceptional on Sunday, showing collectively what needs to be done to deny Haaland, and I was particularly pleased for Joe Gomez, given the scrutiny and injury hell he has been through. 

    Joe Gomez (left) and Virgil Van Dijk (right) showed how to deal with Erling Haaland (centre)

    The Liverpool centre-backs made sure they occupied the spaces that Haaland loves to run into

    DROP DEEP AND RETREAT

    Several times this season, Haaland has used his intelligence and pace to break behind opposition back lines. The screenshot above shows how Gomez and Van Dijk weren’t willing to run that risk. They took up deeper positions and were retreating towards their goal in readiness for the ball from Rodri.

    Rather than stay too tight to him, they mostly occupied the space that Haaland loves to run into. That made life much more difficult for City’s striker.

    FOILING A PASS MASTER

    Kevin De Bruyne has five assists for Haaland this season, including this sublime ball  behind Manchester United’s defence. 

    Haaland likes attacking space, mostly by pulling off the shoulder of the right-sided centre back, and it’s a pass that’s ready-made for De Bruyne.

    He had chances to cross for Haaland on Sunday but Liverpool’s central defenders did really well to read the link-up.

    Against Manchester United De Bruyne played an excellent pass in order to set up Haaland

    De Bruyne looked to repeat the trick but Gomez anticipated the problem and read the danger

    The screenshot shows how De Bruyne is looking to hit the space behind the defence for Haaland, but Gomez anticipates the problem. He has positioned himself to drop off and retreats to get there first, heading clear.

    Two years ago, City ranked towards the bottom of the Premier League for crosses made. Now, nobody crosses the ball more. That is because City’s players are programmed to feed Haaland. Yet other than a headed chance in the first half, he was well tracked by the Liverpool pair.

    GOMEZ IS UP TO PACE

    In 2018, I predicted Gomez and Virgil van Dijk could go on to form one of the great Premier League centre-half partnerships. But we’ve been denied this defensive duo, with Van Dijk missing nine months with an ACL injury and Gomez rupturing the patellar tendon in his left knee in 2020.

    That takes time to recover from. I know, having suffered a partial tear of my patellar tendon when playing for England against Sweden at Euro ’92. It was two years before I was free of pain and back to having the pace I formerly had.

    Gomez and Van Dijk worked hard to stop Kevin De Bruyne (right) from supplying Haaland 

    Gomez has had to overcome a significant injury but the defender now seems back to his best

    There is immense competition for places at Liverpool, who also have Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate, but maybe this is the game which puts the Gomez and Van Dijk partnership back on the map.

    Gomez had started only four Premier League games this season, all at right back. But he and Van Dijk stood up against the world’s best striker.

    BACK UP YOUR PARTNER 

    If you are going to stop Haaland, your central defensive partners need to have each other’s backs. On the odd occasion that Gomez did not track City’s striker, Van Dijk did. As the below screenshot shows, Haaland was waiting for a back-post tap-in but Van Dijk was there to head the ball over his own bar.

    You have to take pride in being there to rescue your fellow centre back when he switches off. Gomez and Van Dijk showed what partners need to do by teaming up on Haaland. They were aggressive and up for the fight but, more importantly, they were smart and worked together.

    The second screenshot shows De Bruyne trying to pass to Haaland, who has pulled off Gomez’s shoulder into a central position outside the six-yard box — the same area from which he completed his hat-trick against Manchester United.

    Van Dijk uses his pace to block the ball with a sliding challenge while Gomez is readying himself to deal with Haaland in case the expected cross came in.

    In one instance Haaland was waiting for a tap-in but Van Dijk headed the ball over his own bar

    Gomez and Van Dijk worked together as a unit to prevent Haaland from making a major impact

    MARTIN KEOWN: Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk showed how to deal with Erling Haaland

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