Pep Guardiola says he is intrigued how Erling Haaland will get on against the “aggressive” Manchester United defender Lisandro Lopez on Sunday at The Etihad.
Manchester City will take on United in the first Manchester derby of the season, with Guardiola aware that City have not been as dominant as they would have liked on home soil against the neighbours.
City did complete the double over United last season, but before that they had won just once in their previous six home encounters with United.
Of course this time around, City’s attack will be spearheaded by Haaland, who has scored 11 Premier League goals already. And his battle with United’s new Argentinian centre-back will be an interesting watch.
United boss Erik ten Hag has claimed that United will not make any special provisions for the prolific Haaland. The Dutch boss hinted United will take a team approach to try and stop the 6ft 4in striker.
“We don’t play against Haaland, we play against Man City. We are convinced of our capabilities. If we act as a team then we can beat our opponents,” said Ten Hag.
Whether that will be a plan that works remains to be seen, but Martinez will surely be the main man to keep watch on Haaland. And at 5ft 9in Martinez will have a clear height disadvantage. But Guardiola insists that does not necessarily offer an indicator of how the battle will be won.
Guardiola said: “Erling is taller, that is for sure, but I like it when the people underestimate a football player just for his size.
“He can tell them: ‘I am here, I am a good player, I can play everywhere’. He’s a fantastic player – incredible in the build-up, good mentality, aggressive.
“It is not the first time he has played against strikers who are taller than him and he handles it.
“Of course, the crosses into that position, Erling is taller, but we will see what happens.”
Guardiola has paid tribute to City’s medical team for keeping Haaland fit. The striker has made 10 appearances in all competitions, scoring 14 goals.
Despite boasting a prolific record throughout his young career, the 22-year-old has also had a number of niggling injuries.
Yet with Haaland having so far started every game for City, Guardiola has heaped praise on the club’s medics.
Guardiola said: “Everyone is important but I’ve always said to the club that the most important department in the backroom staff is the physios. They take care of the legs.
Haaland fitness struggles
“Erling struggled a lot in Dortmund last season with injuries and arrived here with little problems after a small surgery in the summer.
“He started to work here with (physiotherapist) Mario (Pafundi) and the other guys and thanks to them – and of course his work ethic – he can play regularly now. Last season it was not possible.
“When the players can play most of the time it’s thanks to the physios.
Pafundi travelled with Haaland to work with the player and Norway during the recent international break.
Guardiola said: “It’s not weird. At events like World Cups and European Championships, many physios go with the players, and Mario is an exceptional physio.”
Asked about Sunday’s challenge against Erik ten Hag’s United, Guardiola said: “When you are on top you have more rivals. In the middle you have less rivals. Big rivals make you better.
Phillips could make World Cup
“We have to play a perfect game tomorrow. They have the qualities upfront, physicality and quality in the middle with Eriksen, Fernandes, physicality with Casimero and McTominay.
“United always like that, Old Trafford we’ve been better than Etihad but it’s our stadium, looking forward, we’re prepared to face them.”
Kalvin Phillips remains on the sidelines after undergoing an operation to correct a recurring shoulder issue.
The midfielder has seen just 14 minutes of action since joining City but Guardiola is hopeful the England international can return in time for the World Cup.
Guardiola said: “He is feeling good. The surgery was really good and the mobility is getting better.
“He took the right decision, otherwise he could not move forward. Now it’s solved this problem and as soon as he is ready he can come back, hopefully in time to go to the World Cup.”