Borussia Dortmund’s bid to win a first Bundesliga crown since 2011/12 is back on track following an excellent start to the second half of the season. Erling Haaland, who has grabbed five goals in less than an hour on the field since joining this winter, has made them a much more dangerous side.
bundesliga.com examines what the Norwegian striker has brought to Lucien Favre’s title hopefuls…
We shouldn’t be too surprised by Haaland and his fast start to life in Germany after his winter move from Austrian champions Salzburg. The 19-year-old, after all, had scored eight goals in six UEFA Champions League group stage matches this season, with only Bayern Munich sharpshooter Robert Lewandowski – on 10 – netting more.
A scoring rate of a goal every 12 minutes in the Bundesliga, however, was beyond expectation. The Norway international backed up his 20-minute hat-trick on his debut against Augsburg by finding the net twice in the 5-1 win over Cologne.
It makes you wonder how much damage he’ll do when he actually gets a run of starts. Haaland, though, offers much more to Dortmund than just goals.
Watch: Check out Haaland's first five Bundesliga goals
A warning shot to rivals
Dortmund might have been planning to sign Haaland this winter anyway, but a draw against RB Leipzig and a defeat at Hoffenheim – both just before Christmas – probably made them even more determined to get their man.
The five-time Bundesliga winners found themselves seven points off leaders Leipzig, and Paco Alcacer – their go-to striker last season – had managed only six Bundesliga starts this term. Ahead of the league’s resumption, though, Dortmund beat off intense competition to sign one of the hottest properties in Europe.
“We can expect an ambitious, athletic and physical centre forward with a proven nose for goal,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said on confirmation of the signing.
With BVB getting 10 goals in the first two matches Haaland has been involved in, the teenager has already had the desired effect – and given them a psychological edge. Providing a shot in the arm for the club’s fans and his teammates alike, he has also put Leipzig and defending champions Bayern Munich on notice – Dortmund will be sticking around in the title race.
Complementing other talents
Any new year optimism seemed to be receding fast when Dortmund were trailing 3-1 at Augsburg in their first match after the winter break.
Then came Haaland’s dramatic introduction. Three minutes after coming on, he gave his side hope with a deadly first-time finish on his left foot – a brilliant angled drive in off the post.
“Erling’s goal to make it 4-1 decided the game once and for all,” said Favre afterwards.
“He’s unstoppable. He constantly wants to train and to win. It’s fantastic for a coach to have a player like that at your disposal.”
Quick of mind and fleet of foot, Haaland was a constant threat to tiring defences. And then you consider that he’s only getting to know other attacking threats like Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard and Marco Reus.
“When my Dad and I decided upon this club, we were looking at all the players who could play me through [on goal],” Haaland told Norwegian broadcaster Viasport after his debut.
“And you can see that today – there’s an extreme amount of quality within this side. After only a couple of minutes on the pitch I got a perfect pass from Jadon. And then there’s guys like Hazard and Reus, who are extremely good players.”
A missing piece of the jigsaw
Alcacer – who scored 18 league goals last season – opened the current campaign by netting five times in five starts. Once injury checked the Spaniard’s progress, however, Dortmund were forced to improvise a little.
“I don’t think we’ve had that kind of striker since Robert Lewandowski,” Reus told Sky Germany shortly after the Norwegian’s arrival.
“He gives us the option to be more flexible and to play in different systems and styles.”
Watch: See what Jadon Sancho made of Haaland's display against Cologne
“We needed a stronger striker, and the club did really good on this one,” Witsel told bundesliga.com.
“For his age he’s really strong. He’s tall, he’s big, he has a lot of quality. He can keep the ball. For a big guy he’s quite technical and in front of goal he’s a killer.”
Dortmund are averaging 2.7 goals per game in the Bundesliga this season and – with another out-and-out goalscorer at the club – that figure could be set to rise.
The fear factor
Markus Gisdol was joking when he said his Cologne side might need to park their team bus in front of goal in order to stop Haaland. But he also suggested that the son of former Leeds United midfielder Alf-Inge gave Dortmund “a new component” that they hadn’t had before. Both those comments were made before Gisdol saw the former Molde player kill off his team’s hopes on Matchday 19.
The variety of goals that Haaland got in his first two games hints at a world of pain on the way for Bundesliga defences. Against Cologne he snapped up a rebound 12 minutes after coming on for his home debut – on his toes and on the move before everyone else. For the second goal in that game he timed his run to beat the offside trap, before rounding the goalkeeper and calmly tucking in from a very tight angle.
The skill on show for that strike brought to mind his treble against Augsburg. For each one he hung on the shoulder of the last defender, but never moved too early. For the first, he invited Sancho to slip him in behind, while for the other two he was alert and swift enough to race on to balls from deeper.
Before Haaland came on against Cologne, some laser-like long passing from centre-back Mats Hummels played a part in the first two goals. Haaland is a player who could benefit in future.
“The most important thing is to have options – and a few different players to give you options – otherwise it’s too easy for the opposition,” Hummels told bundesliga.com afterwards.
Good movement up front, he said, had made the difference against Cologne, and continuing that trend would help against well-organised opponents.
Haaland, with five goals in his first 59 minutes as a Dortmund player, will give those opposing defences fresh food for thought. Can they afford to press high up the pitch when such an effective finisher is around? The teenager scored with his opening effort on goal in the Bundesliga after all, and got five goals in his first six shots as a Dortmund player.
Haaland’s goalscoring start was a Bundesliga record, beating the 72 minutes it took Alcacer to reach five goals. But he felt he could have had even more.
“I just think it’s a shame that Erling is letting up,” goalkeeper Roman Bürki quipped. “Three goals in Augsburg and only two tonight. I hope he doesn’t get just the one goal next week.”
Speaking to bundesliga.com, Sancho revealed that Haaland was genuinely “disappointed” not to have netted more often against Cologne. It’s a healthy attitude for the forward to have, and one he demonstrates during the week as well.
“If he misses a chance in training, he gets angry,” Favre had revealed before the meeting with the Billy Goats.
Both Favre and Hummels praised Haaland for always going “full throttle” during training, and the latter has been hugely impressed by the teenager’s work ethic.
“The best thing about him is how hard he works every day,” Hummels said. “When you see that, you realise his performances are no accident. And that there's a very good chance he'll keep it up.”
There’s plenty of hype around Haaland, but it’s clear that the new signing is already inspiring his teammates both on and off the pitch. And that’s very good news for Dortmund’s title challenge.