Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has defended Erling Haaland amid recent backlash by Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane. The former Manchester United midfielder labeled the superstar striker a “League Two player” following City’s goalless draw against Arsenal. The harsh comments certainly raised eyebrows considering Haaland broke the Premier League‘s scoring record just last season.

Nevertheless, Keane doubled down on his criticism during an appearance this week on the Stick to Football podcast. “I don’t know what the big deal is,” claimed Keane. “I give Erling Haaland praise every week and I think he’s an amazing striker. But his general play is that of a League Two player. I don’t expect people to agree with me.”

Guardiola, however, dismissed the criticism by claiming that City would not have won their five recent trophies without Haaland. “The target is to win trophies and he did,” Guardiola told reporters on Friday. “Would we have won five trophies last year without him? Not a chance. It’s not about Erling or any other player. Until you retire, you can [always] be better.”

Haaland was a key figure in City’s squad in four of these five triumphs since he joined the club. The Norway international did miss the most recent Club World Cup due to injury, but the English side may not have even qualified for the tournament if not for Haaland.

A lack of big-game ability?

One seemingly valid point in the criticism surrounding Haaland is that he does not score in the biggest games. The star has yet to net a goal for City in any semifinal or final of a competition since joining the team. This stretch of matches includes failing to score against Real Madrid (twice) and Inter Milan in last season’s Champions League.

However, Haaland also could not grab a goal against Sheffield United or Manchester United in the FA Cup or when the club faced Sevilla for the UEFA Super Cup.

Despite the lack of goals in these important games, Haaland’s overall scoring record for City is astounding. The 23-year-old star has managed to score 82 goals in 90 total matches with the reigning European champions. Included in this was his record 36 goals during the 2022/23 Premier League season. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah previously held the modern scoring record with 32 goals in the 2017/18 season.

Top teams opt to force City to win without Haaland getting much of the ball

Ultimately, strikers are paid to put the ball into the back of the net and Haaland does this well. The superstar, like any other player in the world, will have his off days from time to time. Nevertheless, his overall ability to score goals is better than any other player on the planet. Bad games also do not exactly come very often for the striker. Haaland has never gone more than two Premier League matches without a goal since joining City.

Big teams with top defenders specifically target the Norwegian as well. Arsenal’s Gabriel recently succeeded at this, as did Real’s Antonio Rudiger. These clubs forced City to beat them without a nullified Haaland. It can be a successful tactic, but also extremely risky with City’s other capable attackers.

Roy Keane was likely just going for a big headline with the “League Two” comments about Erling Haaland. Doubling down on the criticism is also not exactly surprising given the former midfielder’s stern personality. Nevertheless, any soccer team in the world would love to have Haaland in their starting lineup.