Is Erling Haaland ‘final piece in jigsaw’ for Manchester City in Champions League quest?
Four games, six goals and a Premier League hat-trick – is Erling Haaland “the final piece in the jigsaw” for Manchester City in their quest for Champions League glory?
The Norway striker arrived at City from Borussia Dortmund with the guarantee of goals in the summer, and has now scored 161 times in his past 148 starts for club and country.
Haaland has remarkably scored 13 hat-tricks in that time.
And his 19-minute treble on Saturday helped City turn another potential home defeat by Crystal Palace into a comfortable 4-2 win, earning him a standing ovation when he was substituted late on.
But having reached three quarter-finals, the semi-finals and one final in the past five seasons, could he be the man to get Pep Guardiola’s side over the line in European football’s elite club competition?
Haaland’s ruthless efficiency in front of goal has been a key aspect of City’s early Premier League matches.
In the club’s opening victory at West Ham, Haaland came away from London Stadium with two goals – despite having just 32 touches of the ball.
While City won easily, against Bournemouth he was limited to just eight touches and did not see the ball for 27 minutes in the second half.
However, the problem for defenders as Palace found out to their cost, is he is capable of exploding into life at any second – his three-goal burst against the Eagles coming from seven shots and just 16 touches overall.
Haaland’s physical qualities, anticipation and acceleration were all evident at Etihad Stadium on Saturday with his goals coming from a header, a tap-in and a powerful run between defenders that was finished off by a cool finish.
“He came for that. When you have a feeling he is not involved in the game he is always there,” Guardiola said.
“As a striker it is incredible. He does not touch the ball, but he has a feeling the ball is there and he is always involved.
“He is there to score from John Stones’ effort – the sense of the striker is there.
“And the third with the ball to his feet, he used his body – he put the ball in the net somewhere the keeper cannot save it. Look at his numbers – it is astonishing. Erling has done this all his life. Everywhere he has been he has scored goals.”
How many for Haaland?
The Norwegian was the fastest and youngest player to reach 20 Champions League goals, and has a current ratio of 1.21 goals per game in the competition with 23 goals in 19 appearances.
Haaland by numbers
Club/Ctry Apps Starts Goals Hat-tricks
Norway 21 20 20 2
Molde 50 28 20 1
Red Bull Salzburg 27 17 29 5
Borussia Dortmund 89 79 86 4
Manchester City 4 4 6 1
Total 191 148 161 13
His arrival at City has seen Guardiola revert to using an orthodox central striker, having won last season’s Premier League title without one.
It has already paid dividends for Haaland, who is the division’s top scorer, and a player former Newcastle and England forward Alan Shearer says is capable of scoring more than 30 goals.
“When you have someone as good as him, that frees up other players – and that is why they will be so difficult to play against,” Shearer told BBC Sport.
“That is why he should be looking to score 30, 35, 40 goals, and I think he will do that because of the amount of chances they create.
“For so long, City had been playing without that focal striker. There is no doubt he is seen as the final piece in the jigsaw to take them over the line in the Champions League.”
Only eight forwards have scored 30 goals or more in a Premier League campaign – Andy Cole, Shearer (three times), Kevin Phillips, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah – but if Haaland continues on his present trajectory that target is well within reach.
At this rate Haaland will also reach the 18 Premier League goals scored by his father Alf Inge by 20 October when City face Arsenal.
“[My dad] will probably say he had more goals in the Premier League than me so I will chase that!” he said.
“These games are why I’m here – to turn things around when there are difficult times. Amazing feeling to score a hat-trick.”