MANCHESTER, England — If Erling Haaland really is the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi then he’s wasting no time in racking up the numbers to prove it.
The likelihood is that we might never see goalscoring accomplishments like Ronaldo and Messi managed during their time in Spain, but Haaland’s start to life at Manchester City has — at the very least — raised the possibility that we might.
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The Norwegian’s record so far reads five games and nine goals after his second hat-trick in five days helped City to a 6-0 win over Nottingham Forest at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. No player has scored more goals in their first five Premier League appearances and the way Haaland is going, it’s unlikely to be the last record he breaks this season.
To put his exploits into context, it took Sergio Aguero more than three years and nearly 100 games to score two league hat-tricks for City. Haaland has done it in less than a month, only playing a full 90 minutes once over that span.
“What he has done in Norway, Austria and Germany he tries to do here,” said Pep Guardiola afterwards. “The first ball contact, he scores a goal. We knew it. He always scores goals. He is stoppable when we don’t play good, but we try to play in a decent way for the fact that we create opportunities for our talented players up front to score goals.
“He’s strong in all departments, but especially around the box, his finishing, and his work ethic is so great.”
The concern for the rest of the league is that Guardiola is adamant Haaland is still settling in, but he’s already been remarkably efficient. In 68 minutes against Forest, he touched the ball 16 times, but managed four shots, three on target and three goals. He’s contributed 105 touches so far this season and averages a goal every 11.6. It’s a frightening return so early in his City career.
“It’s been good so far,” said Haaland, with something of an understatement. “I’m not complaining. There’s going to be a lot of games, so it’s important to keep going and enjoy as much as we can. Amazing, nothing more to say.”
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With the exception of Ilkay Gundogan, Guardiola says Haaland is still trying to get on the same wavelength as his teammates, though his physical attributes alone are enough to worry defences. Just ask Joe Worrall, Forest’s 6-foot-3 central defender, who was shrugged off with a heave of Haaland’s right arm as he stabbed in City’s first goal. Worrall has spent almost all of his career in the Championship, which is considered a physical league, but even he looked shell-shocked as he lay in a heap on the floor while Haaland wheeled away in celebration.
The second goal was a tap-in — just his third touch of the evening — and the third a thundering header on the goal line when he got up far higher than two defenders in yellow shirts. A perfect hat-trick — left foot, right foot and header — wrapped up inside 38 minutes. His hat-trick against Crystal Palace on Saturday took just 19 minutes.
Forest manager Steve Cooper summed it up saying simply that Haaland has “got the lot.”
Haaland has already scored more goals in August than Harry Kane and the England international is in his 11th Premier League season. Mohamed Salah‘s competition record of 32 goals in a 38-game season in 2017-18 already feels under threat, too. For the record, Salah began the season with three goals in his first five games; Haaland has a six-goal head start although Guardiola believes his No.9 will only measure success this season in silverware.
“I think what he wants is to win the titles,” he said. “Knowing him a little bit, I don’t know if he’d be happy breaking records if we didn’t win titles. If we play good, he’ll have more chances.
“I know Erling is happy scoring goals, but what he wants is to win. If he breaks records but we don’t win, he won’t be happy.”
The challenge for Haaland is consistency, something Ronaldo and Messi mastered at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. In nine years at the Bernabeu, Ronaldo scored an incredible 450 goals in 438 games. Messi, meanwhile, went 13 straight seasons at Barcelona between 2008 and 2021 scoring at least 30 times. Between 2009 and 2019, he hit at least 40 goals each season.
The numbers are mesmerising and while Haaland, still only 22, is a long way from matching those feats, it’s the company he is threatening to keep. As Messi and Ronaldo come to the end of their reign as goalscoring kings of Europe, if Haaland carries on like this, he’s primed to take over.
Man City ratings (by Liam Wheeler)
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Ederson, 6 — Found himself with an early touch, albeit 20 yards from his own goal, after a sloppy pass forced City back. He had to be on his toes again when Rodri put a little too much fizz on another ball back to the City goalkeeper. Beyond that, he had little else to do.
DF Kyle Walker, 7 — Provided plenty of width in the early stages, but he did leave Renan Lodi unmarked at the back post when the visitors threatened for the first time. Much more comfortable beyond that, and he showed his experience to see off Emmanuel Dennis’ run.
DF John Stones, 8 — Set up Haaland’s record-breaking third with a perfect header back across the face of goal. Earlier, he thought he’d struck from Haaland’s flick-on, but the England defender had strayed half a yard offside.
DF Ruben Dias, 7 — A comfortable night for the defender. He had virtually nothing to do and will be more than happy to record another clean sheet against his name.
DF Joao Cancelo, 8 — Forced the corner that led to the breakthrough after a neat exchange with Phil Foden, and he was involved in City’s third too with a beautiful whipped delivery off the outside of the boot. Made it 4-0 thunderous strike that beat Henderson all ends up.
MF Bernardo Silva, 9 — A couple of early surging runs from the midfielder who beautifully skipped past Lodi before losing his footing in the box. A classy display from the 28-year-old who had a huge hand in City’s second and teed up Cancelo for 4-0.
MF Rodri, 7 — Typically calm and composed in the middle, showing his experience to halt the run of Brennan Johnson, who was looking to turn on the afterburners. Replaced after the break as Guardiola looked to save his legs for another day.
MF Ilkay Gundogan, 7 — An early swing and a miss from the Germany international, whose wayward strike drifted well wide, and he started the second half in similar fashion. Caused problems with some good deliveries from set pieces that had Forest defenders scrambling.
FW Julian Alvarez, 9 — An industrious display from the fledgling forward, who struck the post late in the first half before opening his Premier eagle account after the break, smartly finding the bottom corner before smashing home a stunning second late on.
FW Erling Haaland, 10 — Insert endless superlatives here. Nine goals in five games now for the forward, who started with his first touch and completed a remarkable first-half hat-trick with an almighty leap to convert from Stones’ header back across goal.
FW Phil Foden, 9 — Haaland may be grabbing the headlines, but the big Norwegian must love playing with this man who had a hand in all three of his goals, albeit via a tackle for the second. Another super display.
DF Sergio Gómez, 7 — Replaced Cancelo in the 69th minute. Denied Neco Williams with a good block as the visitors hunted for consolation goals, and generally looked bright going forward.
DF Rico Lewis, NR — Replaced Stones in the 74th minute. A second Premier League appearance for the 17-year-old who was good value for his appearance with a couple of decent challenges.
MF Cole Palmer, 6 — Replaced Rodri in the 55th minute. The youngster held his own, too, as City outright refused to decelerate with the game already done and dusted.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 6 — Replaced man of the match Haaland in the 69th minute. Picked out the chest of Mahrez with a trademark switch out to the right-hand side and then the boot of Gomez with another out to the left. Smartly denied by Dean Henderson late on.
FW Riyad Mahrez, 6 — Replaced Foden in the 55th minute. Should have made it 6-0, but he could only fire just wide having created a golden opportunity with an intelligent dart in behind.
Manager Pep Guardiola, 8 — Two changes from the City boss with Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez dropping to the bench, while the Spaniard gave more valuable minutes to a couple of City’s emerging young talents. Thank goodness he didn’t rest Haaland.
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