In an alternative reality, Erling Haaland was starting for Leeds United in their game vs Manchester City, instead of scoring twice against his hometown club.
For those who have somehow avoided the story — it’d be a miracle if there were still people out there — Haaland was actually born in Leeds, son of former Leeds and Man City midfielder Alf-Inge. Haaland Jr was never shy to speak of his boyhood support for Leeds, claiming as early as 2017 that his dream was to with the Premier League with the Yorkshire club. This, despite the fact that his dad had moved to Man City just before he was born.
These quotes, as well as other instances across his career, had some fans dreaming that Haaland would sign for them – picking his heart over his head when it came to deciding his next big move. Unfortunately for them, he picked another of his dad’s old sides Man City, and had no sympathy for Leeds when playing at Elland Road for the first time.
Funnily enough, Haaland vs Leeds wasn’t the only subplot in Wednesday’s game. It was also the first time Haaland had gone up against Jesse Marsch having thrived under the American at Red Bull Salzburg. While Marsch wasn’t the man to bring Haaland through at Salzburg, and he still had a ridiculous record under Marco Rose, there was something about Marsch that lit a spark in the Norwegian – adding something more to his already scary game.
In 22 games for Marsch at Salzburg, spanning just half a season between the American taking charge and Haaland joining Borussia Dortmund, the Norwegian scored 28 goals including five hat-tricks. The pair had already had a chance to reunite in the Bundesliga last season, but Haaland missed the first game between Dortmund and Marsch’s RB Leipzig through injury, and the American had been sacked by the return fixture.
So Elland Road would be the venue, a game that Haaland had been looking forward to for a long time.
“Erling texted me as soon as the schedule came out,” Marsch revealed before the game. “He said that he’s most excited for Boxing Day. I gave him permission to have a small hamstring injury for that match.
“He was born here, his father has history with the club, he has the club in his heart because of that. It’s something that we talked about before when I got the job, him and his father were both incredibly supportive and excited for me.
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“We’ll expect him to be fully ready and passionate about this match which causes issues for us. I know how good he is and how good he can be.”
Leeds may have known how good Haaland can be, but they didn’t know how to stop him. In the first half it was actually a pretty wasteful performance from Haaland, who passed up a couple of chances to put Leeds to the sword – it was almost as if he was going easy, hampered by his heart.
There was no such occurrence in the second half, however, and Leeds put it on a plate for him. Already 1-0 down after Rodri’s goal just before half time, a lapse of concentration when passing at the back gifted the ball to Jack Grealish, who had a two-on-one alongside Haaland up against Illan Meslier. Rather than go himself and silence the Leeds fans who had been booing him after a spate of tough tackles had left him on the floor, Grealish opted to pass to Haaland who tapped in under pressure.
Just under 15 minutes later, the pair linked up again, this time as Grealish found Haaland with a neat cutback inside the box and the power of the Norwegian’s shot was enough to beat Meslier. Haaland’s 20th Premier League goal, the Norwegian has reached that tally quicker than any other player in the division’s history, in what was just his 14th appearance in the competition. His closest rival for that record was Kevin Phillips, who hit the 20-goal mark in 21 games, and it’s worth remembering Haaland also reached 20 goals in the Champions League quicker than any other player – doing so in 14 games as well.
“It’s special,” Haaland told Amazon Prime of his Elland Road debut.
“I’m happy today is a really special moment of my career. When I was young I had a jersey of Eirik Bakke in my room and also a City jersey of my father, so it’s really weird, it’s in my craziest of fantasies I could think of, to be at Elland Road and to score for Manchester City against Leeds.”