Football News

“He is like a sniffer dog” – Erling Haaland breaks Kylian Mbappe’s record to kickstart football’s next elite rivalry

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:34, 6 September 2022

Erling Haaland wrote his name into the Champions League history books with his brace for Manchester City in their 4-0 win over Sevilla.

For the past decade and then some, the battle at the top of football and particularly in the Champions League has been between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Ronaldo leads the way as the Champions League’s all-time top goalscorer, with 140 (not including qualifiers), some 15 clear of second-placed Messi. But Ronaldo is not in the Champions League this season and both he and Messi are in the final years of their career, so it’s time for a new rivalry.

Over the past few years many fans have tipped Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to be the next great rivalry to take us probably into the 2030s and on Tuesday night we had our first real taster of what could be to come.

Making his Champions League debut for Man City, Haaland scored once in each half to reach 25 goals in Europe’s premier club competition, becoming the youngest ever player to hit that milestone at 22 years and 47 days. In doing so, the Norwegian took that record from Mbappe who was an ancient 22 years and 80 days when he reached 25 goals in the Champions League back in March 2021.

But there is something more ridiculous about Haaland’s 25 goals. Despite being in his fourth season in the Champions League, Haaland has played just 20 games, hampered by injury last season as Borussia Dortmund went out in the group stage. The Norwegian still ended the campaign with three goals in three games, but it was a big fall from his first two seasons in the Champions League.

Marking his competition debut for Red Bull Salzburg, Haaland scored eight goals in the group stage before adding another two in two for Dortmund after switching clubs in the summer – that’s three clubs for whom Haaland has scored on his Champions League debut. He added another 10 goals in his second season of Champions League football, again in eight matches. In fact, Haaland has only failed to score in five Champions League matches including two against Manchester City in 2020/21 as Dortmund were knocked out.

So, how do you stop Haaland? Former Man City defender Joleon Lescott believes you have to get physical.

“100 per cent,” he answered when Owen Hargreaves said teams are going to have to start bumping Haaland.

“That’s the way you’ve got to mark him. You can’t always stop him, you’re never always going to prevent him from scoring but you have to be in contact.”

Rio Ferdinand added: “You’ve got to affect the striker’s rhythm. His route to goal at the moment, all of his goals at the moment I think it’s 10 now out of 11 goals are one-touch and they’re almost all within the width of the six-yard box. And a lot of those moments he’s not even getting touched by anybody.”

Ferdinand went further in his praise for Haaland and his reading of the game, with the Norwegian’s first goal against Sevilla seeing him perfectly time a run at the back post and the second tapping in following a rebound.

“He is like a sniffer dog when it comes to opportunities,” he said.

“He’s just there, he just has an understanding of where the ball may drop, he keeps himself onside. Looking at his teammates he understands their motions and their movements and their habits and he’s picked that up so quickly in a Man City shirt.”

On the same night Haaland scored a brace, Mbappe also got two goals to help Paris Saint-Germain beat Juventus 2-1, to take his Champions League tally to 35 goals in 54 games. Mbappe has now broken into the top 20 for Champions League goalscorers, while Haaland is 38th but climbing quick.

Remarkably Mbappe is now in his seventh season of the Champions League, and has scored at least four goals in each of his previous six campaigns, including eight in 2020/21. Mbappe is also closing in on a record of his own with only Lionel Messi scoring more goals inside the opening five minutes of a Champions League match than the Frenchman’s five.