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Why Erling Haaland Will Probably Be A Bust In 2022-23

Everybody is rushing to add the exciting Manchester City newbie to their fantasy teams. Here is why avoiding the young star will likely turn out to be the wiser move.

Norwegian Royals Play A Friendly Football Match At Skaugum Arena
Haaland and Manchester City fans are overjoyed with his transfer. Fantasy managers may not end up smiling, though.
Photo by Rune Hellestad-Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

As children, we all dutifully learned the dangers of peer pressure. No matter how many other people are popping pills, sniffing powder or shooting smack, stay away from drugs. Don’t drink and drive. And don’t ever, ever think about wearing a denim jacket with blue jeans (a.k.a. the Canadian tuxedo) or a denim shirt with dungarees (the Jay Leno). [Editor’s note: Now you tell me...]

This summer’s bright and shiny new toy whom fantasy managers are rushing to add to their FPL teams is Erling Haaland. A summer transfer by Man City for well under market value, Haaland already has an FPL selection rate of 61%, making him the second-most popular player in the game behind Arsenal newcomer Gabriel Jesus, the player Haaland is replacing at City.

The superlatives seem never ending. Haaland is young but well seasoned. He’s big and strong, with no shortage of speed to boot. He is a fantastic finisher, including from the penalty spot, while also being full of assists as a team player. The Norwegian has scored at every level he’s played at for club (including in Champions League) and country. He will be coached by one of the best managers in the world, Pep Guardiola, while surrounded by the most lethal attack force in the Premier League, overflowing with star talent at every position.

Even so, there is a mountain of evidence that Haaland will likely prove to be fool’s gold for fantasy managers in 2022-23. Just because everybody else is rushing to commit hara-kiri to their FPL teams does not mean that you should, too.

Please, do yourself a favor and avoid the Haaland-related peer pressure. Why? Let’s take a long look at the (many, many) reasons the young star is probably going to be a bust in his first season with the Citizens.

I’m going to break this into two main sections: Playing time concerns, and performance concerns. Naturally, there is plenty of overlap between the two, so I will do my best to separate them as possible. Let’s start with the former.


1. PLAYING TIME CONCERNS

It is difficult for a player to make a big impact if he doesn’t play as much as he could, particularly from a fantasy standpoint. If you’re paying a lot of money for a player, you don’t want too many one-point outings from late cameos, nor do you want zeroes from cheap players you purposely picked to warm your bench.

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A. The Dilution from “Pep Roulette”

Let’s start by looking at last season’s two best teams. Manchester City and Liverpool were heads above the rest of the league not only in the table but in their attacks. The Sky Blues scored 99 goals, Liverpool 94. Chelsea was next at just 76. Yet Liverpool’s offense produced far more fantasy joy at the top end, with three players returning 175+ points each as opposed to only one such for City.

Why? Pep Roulette — distributed minutes, of course! Not surprisingly, the 175+ point players were the attackers who were afforded ~2,200+ minutes:

Comparison of Man City and Liverpool Attackers, 2021-22

MCI ATTACKER POS MIN FPL POINTS LIV ATTACKER POS MIN FPL POINTS
MCI ATTACKER POS MIN FPL POINTS LIV ATTACKER POS MIN FPL POINTS
K. De Bruyne MF 2,196 196 M. Salah MF 2,758 265
R. Sterling MF 2,121 163 S. Mane MF 2,818 183
B. Silva MF 2,856 155 D. Jota MF 2,357 175
P. Foden MF 2,125 137 J. Henderson MF 2,592 110
R. Mahrez MF 1,485 135 T. Alcantara MF 1,527 69
I. Gundogan MF 1,851 124 N. Keita MF 1,169 65
G. Jesus F 1,871 120 L. Diaz MF 957 64
J. Grealish MF 1,910 86 R. Firmino F 980 62
N/A N/A N/A N/A A. Chamberlain MF 777 42
N/A N/A N/A N/A C. Jones MF 849 40
MCI TOTAL MF/F 16,415 1,116 LIV TOTAL MF/F 16,784 1,075

(NOTE: Min. 750 minutes, excl. def. midfielders Fabinho, Fernandinho & Rodri)

The Sky Blues produced more FPL points together from their attackers than Liverpool, despite having two fewer players at the 750’ minimum. And Manchester City produced seven players with 100+ points compared to only four for Liverpool.

Real Madrid v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League
How many Man City attackers played at least 2,200 EPL minutes last season? The answer is shown in the attached photo.
Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

But what good is that for us when fantasy managers can have only three players maximum from a single team, especially with Man City and Liverpool defenders/keepers also serving as attractive options?

You tell me who was happier, managers who went with Diogo Jota (175 points) or those who grabbed Riyad Mahrez (135 pts), especially given that Jota finished the season cheaper than Mahrez in the mid-priced midfield category? Likewise, were you better off paying premium for Salah (265 pts) or KDB (196 pts)? And of course, at a price point in between those two tiers, would you rather have had Mane (183 pts) or Sterling (163 pts)? I think we know the answers all point in favor of Jurgen Klopp’s stars who weren’t subject to Pep Roulette.

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THE TAKEAWAY: Largely due to Pep Roulette, just one City attacker was afforded 2,200+ minutes in the league last season. Correspondingly, despite scoring a league-high 99 goals, Manchester City managed only one attacker who scored 175+ points in FPL and none could crack 200. Failing to feature regularly enough, even the team’s biggest stars simply can’t reliably return FPL value with respect to full season scoring.


B. Limited Playing Time for First Year Attackers under Pep Guardiola

If you thought the impact of Pep Roulette in 2021-22 was bad enough, just wait, it gets worse when widening the historical scope. Let’s look at playing time for the team’s impressive roster of 2021-22 attacking stars, not last season, but back further when they featured in their first full campaign with the team under Pep (or in the case of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, under then-manager Manuel Pellegrini). Of course, we don’t need to look back any more than 2021-22 for Jack Grealish.

2021-22 Man City Attackers’ Stats in First Full Season with Team

ATTACKER POS TRANSFER PRICE ($M) 1ST FULL MCI SEASON AGE MIN FPL PTS
ATTACKER POS TRANSFER PRICE ($M) 1ST FULL MCI SEASON AGE MIN FPL PTS
K. De Bruyne MF $83.6 2015-16 24 2,002 131
R. Sterling MF $70.1 2015-16 20 1,920 96
G. Jesus F $35.2 2017-18 20 1,660 126
B. Silva MF $55.0 2017-18 22 1,514 112
I. Gundogan MF $29.7 2017-18 26 1,504 82
R. Mahrez MF $74.6 2018-19 27 1,331 102
P. Foden MF N/A 2019-20 19 888 69
J. Grealish MF $129.3 2021-22 25 1,910 86
E. Haaland F $66.0 2022-23 22 ??? ???
AVG. EXCL. HAALAND MF/F $68.2 VARIOUS 23 1,591 101

I think I hear something. Oh, that’s just the sound of FPL managers across the world who are expecting big things from Haaland now collectively throwing up in their mouths.

The 2021-22 crop of Manchester City superstar attackers, back when they first played a full season under Guardiola or Pellegrini, averaged fewer than 1,600 minutes and barely cracked 100 points in FPL. While many performed very well on a points per 90’ basis, nobody played enough minutes to make a satisfying FPL return overall for the season. The high in minutes was 2,002’ and the FPL scoring best was 131 points, both Kevin De Bruyne in 2015-16.

Manchester City v Fulham FC - FA Cup Fourth Round
All of these 2021-22 Man City stars struggled to get regular playing time at first under Guardiola.
Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Yes, current worldwide superstar Kevin De Bruyne, whom many consider the best player in the EPL, was an exceedingly mediocre fantasy performer in his first season at City, and that was after coming over for $83.6m from VfL Wolfsburg in 2015-16 at the age of 24.

That means that KDB was actually older at the time, and cost more than Haaland (who is also coming over from the Bundesliga). Likewise, the average original incoming age and transfer price for last season’s collective crop of Man City offensive stars is actually a bit older and dearer, respectively, than they are for Haaland. It’s not like we’re talking about a slew of unpolished 18 year olds who were speculative buys.

Some of you may be looking at the above chart and asking, What about Leroy Sane? Maybe he wasn’t still around in 2021-22, but don’t forget about him, he was great! Indeed, we should also recall Sane, a wonderfully talented player who turned out to be a successful transfer after coming over from Bundesliga side Schalke 04 in the summer of 2016. However, just like the stars shown above, success was not immediate, as Sane only played 1,781’ in the EPL in 2016-17.

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THE TAKEAWAY: The 2021-22 City team was stacked with well-polished attacking talent. But back in their first full seasons with Pep, each and every one would have been considered an FPL bust, struggling for regular playing time and correspondingly failing to produce at anywhere close to an elite level. Guardiola does not hand the keys over to newcomers right away. Rather, becoming a regular is a gradual process.


C. Pep’s Affinity for the “False 9” Formation

When the Sky Blues shipped out Ferran Torres and chose Jack Grealish over Harry Kane for their big summer 2021 attacking transfer acquisition — perhaps with an eye toward grabbing Haaland in the summer of 2022 — Guardiola was committed to having only one true forward for the 2021-22 season, Gabriel Jesus.

Jesus never turned into a superstar following Sergio Aguero’s departure as some may have hoped, but the Brazilian was a very solid player at the striker position in his time at City, contributing 58 goals plus 29 assists in 159 games. While Jesus featured in 28 of the 38 league games (74%) in 2021-22, he started just 21 times (55%). In other words, Guardiola amazingly did not start a forward in nearly half (45%) of the team’s EPL fixtures last season.

Real Madrid v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
Pep Guardiola has taken an increasingly distant relationship with forwards in recent seasons.
Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Man City scored the most goals (99) in the league while conceding the joint fewest (26, tied with Liverpool). Not surprisingly, fantasy managers could find plenty of joy at keeper (Ederson), defender (João Cancelo) and midfielder (Kevin De Bruyne), as each of those three players ranked between #2 and #4 in FPL at their respective positions. However, the forward position was a fantasy wasteland for City; playing only 1,871 minutes and scoring a meager tally of 120 FPL points, Jesus ranked way back at #10 among strikers for the entire campaign.

Top Man City FPL Performer by Position, 2021-22

POS. PLAYER FPL PTS. FPL POS. RANK GAMES STARTS MINUTES
POS. PLAYER FPL PTS. FPL POS. RANK GAMES STARTS MINUTES
GK Ederson 155 #3 37 37 3,330
DEF J. Cancelo 201 #2 36 35 3,227
MF K. De Bruyne 196 #4 30 25 2,196
FW G. Jesus 120 #10 28 21 1,871

A part of Jesus’ lack of playing time was due to injury, but much of it was due to Guardiola’s love of the false 9 formation. The brilliant manager simply seems to relish — fairly frequently — playing without a striker, instead throwing an extra midfielder on the field in an advanced role to confuse the defense or take advantage of a perceived match-up advantage. And with Man City having captured the league title yet again last season, there is no reason for Guardiola to doubt the effectiveness of the strategy.

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THE TAKEAWAY: If Haaland is healthy all season, we can surely expect Guardiola to start him more often than he started Jesus last season. However, due to Pep’s propensity to adopt an XI featuring a false 9, it may be to be too much to ask for Haaland to get on the pitch as a truly regular starter in the way that superstar strikers elsewhere around the league are utilized by their managers.


D. Haaland’s Injury Risk

As you can see from the trio of reasons above, I’m already worried enough about playing time for Haaland in his first year at City. Now we’re adding in Haaland’s injury history on top of that? (Yikes!)

Haaland has missed a fair amount of time from injury during his spell with Borussia Dortmund. The positive spin is that he’s still scored a boatload of goals despite the limited playing time, but we’ll get to his prolific attacking production later. For now, let’s focus on what we should fairly expect in terms of availability (or lack thereof) due to injury.

The Bundesliga schedule is limited to 34 games, whereas the EPL has 38 fixtures, so the table below contains an extrapolation of Haaland’s Bundesliga time to a full EPL season. For simplicity’s sake, I am only looking at 2020-21 and 2021-22, since 2019-20 was when he came over from Red Bull Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund as a winter transfer.

In the past two Bundlesliga campaigns, Haaland has featured in 52 of a possible 68 games and played 4,325 out of a maximum 6,120 minutes, which prorated is an EPL average of 29 games and 2,417’ per season.

Haaland’s Bundlesliga Playing Time, Past Two Seasons

SEASON BUND. GAMES BUND. MINUTES EPL GM EQUIVALENT EPL MIN EQUIVALENT
SEASON BUND. GAMES BUND. MINUTES EPL GM EQUIVALENT EPL MIN EQUIVALENT
2020-21 28 2,410 31.3 2,694
2021-22 24 1,915 26.8 2,140
AVERAGE 26 2,163 29.1 2,417

2,417’ isn’t terrible, but it isn’t anything to get excited about either. How important is playing time? Only three FPL attackers scored 200+ points last season, and each played over 2,750 minutes: Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (265 points in 2,758’), Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min (258 points in 3,009’) and West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen (206 points in 2,987’).

But those were midfielders. What about forwards? Well, a comparison of the top two strikers in FPL perfectly illustrates the difference that playing time can make:

  • The #1 forward, Spurs’ Harry Kane, played a robust 3,231’ and racked up 192 points.
  • The #2 forward, Man United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, was limited to 2,454’ and managed just 159 points.

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THE TAKEAWAY: Given Haaland’s recent injury history, about the best case scenario for 2021-22 playing time may be something along the lines of 31 games and 2,700 minutes, which isn’t bad. But would you be happy if he played just 27 games and gave you only 2,150 minutes, which is just as strong of a possibility? No, not at his price. And that’s without including the other factors mentioned earlier in section 1, so the playing time projections in this section may prove overly optimistic anyway.


E. The EPL’s Change from Three to Five Subs per Game

Recently the International Football Association Board made the allowance of five substitutions a universal rule of the game. Most of the rest of the European footballing world had already moved to five subs from three, but the Premier League stubbornly held out. Now that option has been taken out of their hands.

Purists and fans of the smaller sides will understandably cry foul. But given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming World Cup which takes place during the season rather than in the summer, and the general strain on players who play a plethora of cup competitions on top of their domestic league and national team obligations, many will view this as a positive development.

Overall, the addition of two subs should help the bigger teams (which tend to be blessed with depth) and hurt the smaller squads (which are not). Manchester City are obviously one of those major sides. However, what is beneficial for a team writ large may be the opposite for that side’s stars in fantasy.

A potential problem for City players regarding fantasy value is that starts and minutes could be rationed further (if that is even possible, given Pep roulette). In a five sub world, a player like Haaland may end up with fewer starts than he would have received in a three sub sphere, or have the same number of starts but tend to be pulled earlier in the game for rest.

On the flip side, though, the change could prove to be a net positive by allowing for more starts for the players whom Pep views to be the most essential. Or it could merely balance out, should Haaland earn more starts but be taken out earlier in those instances.

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THE TAKEAWAY: As far as the red flags for reduced playing time in this section, the change increasing the number of subs allowed is the least of my concerns. Unlike the other scenarios, there is also a chance of being a positive, or it could simply be a wash. It is absolutely a potential worry, but it’s difficult to predict how this one will play out.


2. PERFORMANCE CONCERNS

Let’s move on from playing time to performance concerns. While Haaland is a magnificent talent, we should not let his vast skills and impressive goal scoring prowess put blinders over our eyes. Even if Haaland does somehow end up being an injury-free regular starter, he is still far from a slam dunk to repeat his prodigious previous output and provide fantasy value this upcoming season with City for a multitude of reasons.

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A. The FPL Scoring Bias Against Forwards

Did you notice something from segment 1D above? Forwards pale in comparison to midfielders in terms of FPL scoring. The following comparison perfectly illustrates the bias toward midfielders and against forwards inherent in the platform:

  • Forward Harry Kane enjoyed an other-worldy 2020-21 season, winning both the Golden Boot and assist title outright. Tottenham’s Kane turned his 23 goals and 14 fantasy assists into a huge 242 point haul.
  • Midfielder MoSalah produced a galactic 2021-22 season, winning both the Golden Boot (shared with Spurs’ Son Heung-min) and assist crown. Salah turned his 23 goals and 14 fantasy assists into a mammoth 265 point haul.

That’s a 23 point difference in favor of the midfielder for the exact same goal and assist totals. Taking the captaincy into account, it’s a 46 point chasm!

TOPSHOT-FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL-TOTTENHAM
Forward Kane lags behind midfielder Salah in FPL scoring even when they put up identical goal and assist numbers.
Photo by JON SUPER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Going further and opening up the scoring on the platform to all four positions, Harry Kane ranked only 7th overall in FPL in 2021-22 as the sole forward in the top 15, with Cristiano Ronaldo tied all the way back at #19. Here is the breakdown of the top 20 FPL scorers by position:

  • 11 midfielders
  • 6 defenders
  • 2 forwards
  • 1 keeper

That’s right, folks, there were just two forwards in the top 20! Meanwhile, midfielders themselves accounted for over half of the players. Midfielders and defenders combined represented a whopping 85% of players on the list.

Top 20 FPL Player Scoring Ranker, 2021-22

RANK PLAYER TEAM POS FPL POINTS
RANK PLAYER TEAM POS FPL POINTS
1 M. Salah Liverpool MF 265
2 Son Tottenham MF 258
3 T. Alexander-Arnold Liverpool DEF 208
4 J. Bowen West Ham MF 206
5 J. Cancelo Man City DEF 201
6 K. de Bruyne Man City MF 196
7 H. Kane Tottenham F 192
8 A. Robertson Liverpool DEF 186
9(T) V. van Dijk Liverpool DEF 183
9(T) S. Mane Liverpool MF 183
11 J. Maddison Leicester MF 181
12 B. Saka Arsenal MF 179
13 Alisson Liverpool GK 176
14 D. Jota Liverpool MF 175
15 J. Matip Liverpool DEF 170
16 M. Mount Chelsea MF 169
17 R. Sterling Man City MF 163
18 A. Laporte Man City DEF 160
19 (T) C. Ronaldo Man United F 159
19 (T) J. Ward-Prowse Southampton MF 159

Why were forwards so under-represented, despite having plenty of big-name players at the position who cost plenty of coin both in real life and in fantasy? Largely it’s because the FPL scoring system is inherently biased against strikers. Forwards get only four points for a goal (compared to five for midfielders and six for defenders); strikers don’t get any clean sheet credit (whereas midfielders get one pt and defenders four), and forwards tend to deliver far fewer assists (three pts each) than the top midfielders and defenders.

And no, I did not forget about keepers, who can translate a combination of clean sheets and saves into big fantasy returns at a comparatively cheap price. That’s how the best player at the position, Liverpool’s Alisson, actually outscored Cristiano Ronaldo by 17 points!

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THE TAKEAWAY: Forwards far too frequently end up being poor investments in FPL compared to other positions. If you are paying heavily for a forward, risk aversion is vital.


B. The Unpredictable, Often Underwhelming Nature of PKs

Fantasy managers love having players who take penalty kicks since that can mean a big haul of “extra” points for goals plus corresponding bonus awards. In one notable example, a whopping half (nine out of 18) of Bruno Fernandes’ goals in 2020-21 came from the PK spot. “Penandes” was one of fantasy’s top performers in racking up 244 points that season, and a very significant proportion of that production was tied to the combination of his designation as #1 pen taker, his outstanding conversion rate (9 out of 10) and the Red Devils’ uncanny ability to draw PKs.

However, Man United went from earning 11 PKs in 2020-21 to only five in 2021-22, and Bruno was relegated to #2 PK status behind Cristiano Ronaldo after his fellow Portugal superstar transferred from Juventus. Failing to convert a single penalty kick, Fernandes fell off a cliff by returning only 151 fantasy points.

Fantasy managers who were were also left disappointed, counting on Cristiano Ronaldo to make a huge impact from the spot, as Fernandes had done the prior season, but only three of CR7’s 18 goals came from penalties.

You may be asking, But what does Man United have to do with Man City? Alright, then, let’s focus on the Sky Blue side of “Madchester.” Erling Haaland is an outstanding penalty kick taker, having converted 26 out of 28 tries across all competitions in his career. He is 8 for 10 in the Bundlesliga, and 3 for 3 in the Champions League. Since the departure of Sergio Aguero, Man City has had trouble converting penalties. Riyad Mahrez was the primary PK taker last season, but the winger converted a subpar rate of 12 for 18 (67%) in his Premier League career. The expectation will absolutely be for Haaland to be handed the #1 penalty responsibility at City.

We know that the Citizens score goals by the boatload, phenomenally leading the league in that category each of the past five campaigns. They must get torrents of penalties, right? No, City’s PK contribution to the overall goal scoring tally is a bit (or maybe more than a bit) underwhelming on balance. Looking at the past five seasons, City has averaged a staggering 97 goals, but with just 5.4 scores from 8.2 attempts at the penalty spot.

Manchester City Penalty Kick Stats, Past Five Seasons

SEASON TEAM PK GOALS TEAM PK ATTEMPTS MOST PK GOALS MOST PK ATTEMPTS
SEASON TEAM PK GOALS TEAM PK ATTEMPTS MOST PK GOALS MOST PK ATTEMPTS
2017-18 6 8 4 (Aguero) 4 (Aguero)
2018-19 3 4 2 (Aguero) 2 (Aguero)
2019-20 6 11 2 (Aguero, KDB) 3 (Aguero)
2020-21 5 9 2 (KDB) 3 (KDB)
2021-22 7 9 4 (Mahrez) 5 (Mahrez)
AVG. 5.4 8.2 2.8 3.4

As with Man United, there is always variance to consider. If City gets 11 attempts as in 2019-20, fantasy managers with Haaland will be overjoyed. But what if City ends up with only four tries as happened in 2018-19? That would be a disaster.

Even worse, given the playing time concerns that have already been established, the fundamental problem is that we cannot count on Haaland being a regular starter. Seeing that no single City player has had more than four conversions or five attempts from the spot in any of the past five seasons, it is easy to envision a similar four for five best case scenario for Haaland in 2022-23. And what if he ends up only two for two or three, which was the situation for City in 2018-19 through 2020-21? That would be even a bigger catastrophe.

Circling back to Ronaldo, we now need to ask, Was CR-7 an outlier in 2021-22? Was being 3 for 3 from the spot unusually low for a top forward? Well, let’s now look at the penalty contribution for the top five forwards in FPL last season.

Penalty Kick Stats for Top Five Forwards in FPL, 2021-22

PLAYER TEAM FPL PTS GOALS PK GLS PK ATT
PLAYER TEAM FPL PTS GOALS PK GLS PK ATT
H. Kane Tottenham 192 17 4 4
C. Ronaldo Man Utd 159 18 3 3
T. Pukki Norwich 142 11 3 3
M. Antonio West Ham 140 10 0 1
I. Toney Brentford 139 12 5 5
AVERAGE VARIOUS 154.4 13.6 3.0 3.2

Harry Kane had only four penalty attempts featuring for a Spurs attack that finished fourth in the league in goals scored. None of the top five FPL forwards had more than five PK tries. The average was 3.0 conversions out of 3.2 attempts. So Ronaldo’s 3 for 3 line may have been surprising considering Manchester United’s proficiency at drawing PKs in recent history, but no, it was not out of the ordinary at all last season in terms of the top forwards.

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THE TAKEAWAY: Fantasy managers are surely entertaining visions of Haaland going 7 for 8, or even 9 for 10 from the PK spot. While that is not outside the realm of possibility, the odds are against it. Something more along the lines of 3 for 3 or 4 for 5 may actually be more realistic.


C. The Recent Paucity of Golden Boot Scoring Compared to Other European Leagues

Robin van Persie scored 30 goals for Man United in 2011-12. Luis Suarez netted 31 times for Liverpool in 2013-14. Liverpool’s Mo Salah led the EPL with 32 (and Tottenham’s Harry Kane chipped in with 30 of his own) as recently as 2017-18. So it is not as if we have to go back to the Dark Ages to find prolific goal scoring outputs by the Prem’s Golden Boot winner.

Meanwhile, Manchester City and Liverpool amazingly each cracked 100+ in 2013-14, and City set a new record for any EPL team with 106 goals in 2017-18. Just last season, City scored 99 times as Liverpool finished with 94. So I don’t think we will find too many fans complaining that scoring is at a dearth in the Premiership.

However, in the past four seasons, the well has dried up, at least with respect to the EPL Golden Boot winner. Prem aficionados love to boast that the league contains a level of depth for its 20 teams that is unparalleled in world football.

That breadth of quality arguably leaves not only a greater number of tough teams to face from the top of the table — a “Big Six” whereas other leagues may feature only two, three or four truly elite sides — but also fewer easy fixtures against so-called bottom feeders. Perhaps there is something to that depth claim, which could help explain the relatively low scores by the EPL Golden Boot winner in recent campaigns (an average of 23 goals per season) compared to the leading scorers in other top European leagues (ranging from 27 up to 33 goals per campaign in Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1).

Comparison of Top Goal Scorer in Major European Leagues, Past 4 Seasons

SEASON BUNDESLIGA LA LIGA SERIE A LIGUE 1 EPL
SEASON BUNDESLIGA LA LIGA SERIE A LIGUE 1 EPL
2018-19 22 (Lewandowski) 36 (Messi) 26 (Quagliarella) 33 (Mbappe) 22 (PEA/Mane/Salah)
2019-20 34 (Lewandowski) 25 (Messi) 36 (Immobile) 18 (Ben Yedder/Mbappe) 23 (Vardy)
2020-21 41 (Lewandowski) 30 (Messi) 29 (Ronaldo) 27 (Mbappe) 23 (Kane)
2021-22 35 (Lewandowski) 27 (Benzema) 27 (Immobile) 28 (Mbappe) 23 (Salah/Son)
AVG. 33.0 29.5 29.5 26.5 22.8

Highlighting the difference in output, the EPL Golden Boot winner has been stuck under 25 goals per season in each of the past four seasons. Meanwhile, the other four top European leagues managed to crack 25+ goals in 14 of the combined 16 occasions covering the same span. Furthermore, the top scorer has cracked 30+ goals at least once in each of the other leagues, doing so a combined seven times out of 16 tries.

Compared to the other top European domestic leagues, the EPL sees the biggest deficit with the Bundesliga. Over the past four seasons, the Prem’s Golden Boot winner (22.75 goals) has netted 31% fewer times on average than the Bundesliga’s top scorer (33.0 goals). Haaland scored 27 goals in 2020-21 and 22 goals in 2021-22 in domestic play; if you were to simply lop 31% off those tallies, you would be left with 19 and 15 goals, respectively, for each of the past two seasons. Haaland’s goal scoring output suddenly doesn’t sound so remarkable after all, does it?

If you want to make an argument that Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe are better pure goal scorers than those put on offer by the EPL in the past several seasons, that’s your prerogative. But in countering that stance, first I would say that Mo Salah, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Sadio Mane and Son are absolutely world class goal scorers.

Second, I would add that when you look at the top scorers from the other European leagues, you can’t leave out Wissam Ben Yedder, Fabio Quagliarella and Ciro Immobile, none of whom are exactly household names.

Third, on the flip side of that coin, don’t forget to include Cristiano Ronaldo who actually finished five goals shy of the Golden Boot when he was in the EPL last season.

And fourth, even if you still want to claim that the likes of Lewandowski / Messi / Mbappe are better than Salah / Kane / Vardy, I would ask, By how much? 5%? 10%? The average Bundesliga tally of 33.0 goals is 47% more than the EPL’s 22.75 goals. Is Lewandowski really 47% better than Vardy at putting the ball in the net?

The shared La Liga and Serie A mark of 29.5 scores is 30% higher than 22.75. Is Messi truly 30% better than Kane? The Ligue 1 average of 26.5 goals is 16% higher than 22.75. s Kylian Mbappe in fact 16% better than Salah?

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THE TAKEAWAY: Haaland could deliver a huge scoring output this upcoming season, but that would be an awful lot to ask. First of all, no player in the EPL has managed more than 23 goals in any of the past four seasons. Furthermore, numbers from the top Bundesliga, Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A scorers are practically on steroids compared to the tamer tallies from EPL Golden Boot winners, with the Bundesliga being inflated the most. Along the lines of grading on a curve, we should be wary of that severe EPL deficit when attempting to translate Haaland’s output from the top German league.


D. The Recent History of Bundesliga Attacking Busts

Let’s segue to another possible downside regarding the Bundesliga. Many players from outside leagues have struggled to adapt immediately to the rigors of the EPL. It is not an uncommon phenomenon. However, it has been a notorious dumpster fire in recent years for attackers coming over from Germany’s top league.

Top EPL teams — West Ham, Chelsea, Man United and Man City — have spared no expense to bring over high profile attackers from the Bundesliga in the past three seasons. Fans and fantasy managers alike were salivating over the prospects of Sebastian Haller, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Jadon Sancho after they had put up huge numbers in Germany, averaging 16 goals plus 9 assists the prior season leading up to their transfer. However, in every case they turned out to be a massive bust, averaging only five goals plus six assists in their initial campaign for their new EPL team.

Production Falloff by Recent Bundesliga to EPL Attacking Transfers

PLAYER SEASON TEAM G A FEE ($M) AGE SEASON TEAM G A FPL PTS
PLAYER SEASON TEAM G A FEE ($M) AGE SEASON TEAM G A FPL PTS
S. Haller 2018-19 E Frankfurt 15 9 $55.0 25 2019-20 West Ham 7 2 N/A
K. Havertz 2019-20 B Leverkusen 12 6 $88.0 21 2020-21 Chelsea 4 6 91
T. Werner 2019-20 RB Leipzig 28 8 $58.3 24 2020-21 Chelsea 6 12 128
J. Sancho 2020-21 B Dortmund 8 12 $93.5 21 2021-22 Man Utd 3 4 91
E. Haaland 2021-22 B Dortmund 22 8 $66.0 22 2022-23 Man City ??? ??? ???
AVG. EXCL. HAALAND VAR. VAR. 15.8 8.8 $73.7 23 VAR. VAR. 5.0 6.0 N/A

(NOTE: Readers may have been expecting to see a third Bundesliga to Chelsea transfer, Christian Pulisic, mentioned in this section. However, I do not consider the American a bust in terms of production. Pulisic never scored more than four goals or provided more than eight assists in the league in any of his three seasons with Borussia Dortmund, so I left him out of the table. But yes, given the pricey nature of his acquisition, Pulisic should certainly be considered a flop.)

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Chelsea have been the poster team for recent Bundesliga to EPL busts.
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

While the Bundesliga to EPL pipeline has been a wasteland for the most part, is not entirely bereft of success stories. But you would have to go all the way back to the 2017-18 midseason acquisition of Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by Arsenal to find an immediately successful high profile attacking transfer from the Bundesliga to the Premier League. It also bears mention that Aubameyang was very well seasoned, 28 at the time with four and a half seasons at Borussia Dortmund under his belt.

Many will also recall the success of Leroy Sane when he came over from the Bundesliga. However, as mentioned in section 1B, the German international was not an immediate EPL triumph, as his production fell off from eight goals plus six assists in his final season at Schalke down to only five goals plus five assists in his first campaign with Man City. Rather, Sane did not make a major impact until his second season in the Premier League when his playing time spiked.

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THE TAKEAWAY: Fantasy managers are hoping that Haaland will be the next Aubameyang in terms of making an immediate impact coming over from the Bundesliga. However, the odds are stacked against him given the more recent struggles of Haller, Havertz, Werner and Sancho.


E. The Recent History of Forward Flops

Haller and Werner are forwards, but Havertz and Sancho are not. So perhaps it is unfair to hold the failures of Havertz and Sancho against Haaland’s prospects for success. In that vein, let’s focus entirely on forwards.

As it turns out, looking only at strikers does not help Haaland’s prospects. In fact, it may make the picture even worse, considering just how high the expectations were for superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku last season, and particularly given that both had previously established themselves as proven goal-scorers in the EPL.

Belgium v Portugal UEFA Euro 2020 Round of 16
FPL managers excitedly chose between Ronaldo and Lukaku at the start of last season. Both failed to measure up to expectations.
Photo by Nico Vereecken / Photonews via Getty Images

In this case, the average for Haller, Werner, Lukaku and Werner was 24 goals plus 7 assists in the prior season, and that plummeted to ten goals plus five assists in the EPL season thereafter.

Production Falloff by Recent EPL Forward Transfers

PLAYER SEASON TEAM G A FEE ($M) AGE SEASON TEAM G A FPL PTS
PLAYER SEASON TEAM G A FEE ($M) AGE SEASON TEAM G A FPL PTS
S. Haller 2018-19 E Frankfurt 15 9 $55.0 25 2019-20 West Ham 7 2 N/A
T. Werner 2019-20 RB Leipzig 28 8 $58.3 24 2020-21 Chelsea 6 12 128
R. Lukaku 2020-21 Inter Milan 24 10 $124.3 28 2021-22 Chelsea 8 1 87
C. Ronaldo 2020-21 Juventus 29 2 $16.5 36 2021-22 Man Utd 18 3 159
E. Haaland 2021-22 B Dortmund 22 8 $66.0 22 2022-23 Man City ??? ??? ???
AVG. EXCL. HAALAND VAR. VAR. 24.0 7.3 $63.5 28 VAR. VAR. 9.8 4.5 N/A

Cristiano Ronaldo delivered the best performance of the quartet, but his return of 159 FPL points was a definite letdown considering his previous goal scoring track record and his dear fantasy price. And while Ronaldo was disappointing but not dreadful, the other three — Haller, Werner and Lukaku — were all unmitigated disasters.

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THE TAKEAWAY: Fantasy managers are again hoping that Haaland will be the next Aubameyang, this time in terms of making an immediate impact at the forward position. However, the odds are stacked against him given the more recent struggles of Haller, Werner, Lukaku and Ronaldo.


F. Man City’s Very Recent Attacking Transfer Bust

Some teams do not fare well in the transfer market. For instance, Man United is infamous for wasting astronomical chunks of coin in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era on a dizzying horde of flops: Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini, Angel di Maria, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Anthony Martial, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Fred, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba, and most recently Jadon Sancho (who of course is still a work in progress).

In contrast, like Liverpool, Man City has proven phenomenally shrewd at targeting players who fit their systems collectively while also developing individually. However, as mentioned, these successes tend to take time, and no team is perfect. Even Man City has suffered a few busts.

Jack Grealish was included earlier in Section 1B with respect to playing time worries, but I think he deserves special mention again in his own segment here regarding production concern. Given his talent and experience, I am sure that most of us thought Grealish had a good chance of integrating well and achieving fairly quick success surrounded by fellow stars in the lethal City attack. I don’t reckon anybody expected him to outperform Kevin de Bruyne, but there was reason to hope that he had a legitimate shot at being a better fantasy value than some or all among the remaining attacking cadre of Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva.

Manchester City v Aston Villa - Premier League
Has everybody somehow magically forgotten about Jack Grealish?
Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Yet in 2021-22, the newcomer was an unmitigated fantasy disaster, finishing with only 86 FPL points in 1,910 minutes. Whichever way you cut it is ugly, with Grealish ranking as just the 8th best midfielder on the team and 13th overall Citizen in fantasy points. After returning strong FPL value at Aston Villa, his production simply vanished in his debut campaign with City.

Jack Grealish’s Production, Past Three Seasons

SEASON TEAM GAMES STARTS MINUTES GOALS ASSISTS FPL PTS FPL PPG
SEASON TEAM GAMES STARTS MINUTES GOALS ASSISTS FPL PTS FPL PPG
2019-20 Aston Villa 36 36 3,233 8 7 149 4.14
2020-21 Aston Villa 26 24 2,183 6 12 135 5.19
2021-22 Man City 26 22 1,910 3 3 86 3.31

Compared to the prior two seasons, Grealish went from scoring 14 goals in 5,416’ for Villa, an average of 0.23 goals per 90’, down to just three goals in 1,910’ in his first campaign with City, a measly 0.14 goals per 90’. While the goal scoring decline was bad enough, the playmaking falloff was even worse. Grealish totaled 19 assists in his prior two seasons, an average of 0.32 assists per 90’. Surrounded by a vast array of talent on an explosive Man City team in 2021-22, Grealish somehow managed just three assists in 1,910’, translating to 0.14 assists per 90’.

Combining the two, Grealish fell off from an average of 0.55 contributions per 90’ with Villa down to 0.28 G+fA per 90’ with City, a 48% decline. As his goals and assists both dried out, Grealish’s FPL production plunged to 3.31 ppg, becoming pure fantasy poison. And while Grealish did come off the bench more often (in terms of starts divided by team games), which hurt his production from the standpoint of the entire season, the PPG drop had nothing to do with that; Grealish actually started games at nearly the same clip (in terms of starts divided by appearances) with City as he had done for Aston Villa.

Why is this worrying for Haaland? Well, if you think Haaland somehow is more ready than Grealish was, Grealish was actually significantly older (25) starting his first season with City than Haaland (22) will be, plus unlike the incoming Borussia Dortmund transfer, Grealish was already fully acclimatized to the demands of the Premiership with two seasons of EPL play under his belt. And while I do not doubt that Guardiola and the City brass fully believe that Haaland will be a wonderful fit, don’t forget that Grealish cost $129.3m — the most ever spent by Manchester City on a transfer — and as mentioned essentially was picked over Harry Kane. It should not be diminished just how highly regarded Grealish was by Guardiola and the City brass who clearly also thought he would be the perfect match when bringing him in a year ago.

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THE TAKEAWAY: On balance, Man City is brilliant in transfer implementation, and the wisdom of bringing in Haaland should not be doubted. However, have we somehow erased last summer’s debacle from our memories? The extremely recent complete failure of attacker Grealish to bed in with City during his first season has to factor into our expectation regarding the level of Haaland’s likely effectiveness in the upcoming campaign, doesn’t it?


THE BOTTOM LINE

Nothing is 100% certain in life other than death, taxes and Jose Mourinho eventually laying waste to whatever team he is managing. So I am not foolish enough to say that Haaland will definitively be a bust. The young star has registered an astronomical tally of 62 goals plus 19 assists in 67 Bundesliga tilts for Borussia Dortmund over the past two and a half seasons, adding a stupendous 23 goals plus three assists in 19 Champions League affairs covering the past three campaigns with RB Salzburg (of the Austrian Bundesliga) and Dortmund (German Bundesliga). Those mouth-watering numbers, especially those last at the highest level of club football, combined with the appeal of joining what many consider the best attack in the world, make it very easy to understand why FPL managers and City fans are fawning all over Haaland.

There is a wide range of legitimate possibilities for his delivery in FPL this upcoming season. Would I be shocked if the newcomer were a Sky Blue superstar performer immediately who scored 200+, 225+ or even 250+ points? No, of course not. Or could Haaland at least manage 175-199 points and provide a solid ROI for your outlay? Yes, naturally he could.

I think Haaland is a phenomenal player and expect that he will be a wonderful fit at Man City... eventually, but probably not immediately. For Haaland to pay off at his price in FPL this upcoming season, he will need to be the second coming of Sergio Aguero from day one. But as we know, and as I have demonstrated regarding the recent history of Sky Blue and other top EPL teams’ incoming attacking transfers, it is not often easy to hit the ground running in the Prem.

In an ideal, purely theoretical world, every situation would be considered exclusively on its own merits. In the real world of imperfect information though, we look at past examples (giving more weight to recent patterns) in order to provide context for future projections.

Even so, that does not mean we should necessarily hold others’ failures against newcomers. Just because Jack Grealish, Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and others failed to make an instant impact after their high profile transfers in recent seasons does not mean that Haaland is doomed to follow suit. While Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, et al. struggled to get minutes in their first seasons at Man City, there is no guarantee that finding pitch time will be as difficult for the bright transfer of 2022-23. Even though Guardiola has frequently eschewed starting a forward in favor of the false 9 formation of late, the new striker could very well portend a return to past times when Sergio Aguero was a regular in the XI.

If there were only a couple/few possible problem areas, I could surely shrug them off. But as you have seen above, there are many, many potential red flags. In fact, I have highlighted 11 of them — five regarding playing time and six in the performance realm. The staggering number of land mines taken in tandem is simply impossible to ignore. The way I see the situation, the voluminous array of potential downsides tips the scales, making it more likely that Haaland will end up somewhere in the territory of 100-174 points, which would put him squarely in the bust category given his dear price.

I get the appeal of installing Haaland into your FPL teams, I really do. I know, it seems like all the cool kids are doing it, and adding the new goal scoring star on a top team is fun! But ultimately I think the wiser course of action is to avoid the risky newcomer and instead pony up big money for a reliable, proven entity. It may be a bit boring, but what you earn is the safety of pretty much knowing what you are getting if you build your team around Mo Salah (who has averaged 258 points in 2,975’ across the past five seasons and costs £13.0m) or Harry Kane (199 points in 2,858’ over the past eight campaigns at a price tag of £11.5m). By going with Haaland (£11.5m), you are placing an awfully big bet merely hoping for a level of production and playing time that is nearly guaranteed from Salah or Kane.

Returning to the theme of peer pressure, I’m sure we all remember our parents long ago rhetorically asking us, “If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” The most hilariously sardonic, yet still on point, example of such extreme sermonizing may have come from the film Heathers starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty. In that classic dark comedy, the fictitious band Big Fun catchily espoused the simple admonition which I advise you to heed: “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It).”

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[SOURCE NOTE: Transfermarkt, the official Premier League site, the official Fantasy Premier League site and Wikipedia were used for statistical and other informational sources in the above post.]

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What do you think about Erling Haaland’s prospects at Manchester City this upcoming season? If you hold high hopes for him, have I changed your mind or are you staying firm with your plans to include the bright young star in your fantasy team? Be sure to answer the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Poll

Are you planning on starting the season with Erling Haaland in your FPL team?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Yes, of course, he will be unstoppable!
    (14 votes)
  • 48%
    No, there are far too many red flags!
    (24 votes)
  • 24%
    I don’t know, I will decide at the last minute...
    (12 votes)
50 votes total Vote Now

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