Erling Haaland: does Manchester City have the ‘best player in the world’?

The young Norwegian striker has already scored 14 goals in eight games

Erling Haaland celebrates City's first goal during the UEFA Champions League
Erling Haaland has a strike rate of 1.75 goals per game
(Image credit: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Three years ago, Manchester United came close to agreeing terms with FC Salzburg for the young Norwegian striker Erling Haaland. Although Ole Gunnar Solskjær, United’s then manager, believed he had a deal, the club’s owners blocked the move, and instead the 19-year-old went to Borussia Dortmund.

It was a decision that always seemed likely to “come back to haunt United”, said Mark Ogden on ESPN. And at the Etihad last Sunday, “it certainly did”. Playing his first derby for Manchester City – the club he joined over the summer – Haaland rampaged through United’s defence “like a teenager playing against nine-year-olds”. He scored a hat-trick and created two other goals as City thrashed their rivals 6-3 – a scoreline that flattered Erik ten Hag’s side. Combining raw power and pace with “fantastic movement”, Haaland demonstrated – not for the first time this season – why he is the “best player in the world” right now.

Already smashing Premier League records

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Haaland’s numbers are swelling at a “frightening rate”, said James Ducker in The Daily Telegraph, and even if he has a sticky patch at some point, the records look likely to go on falling. In eight Premier League appearances for City, he has scored 14 goals – a strike rate of 1.75 goals per game. Maintaining that ratio, it will take him just 19 games to eclipse Mohamed Salah’s 32 goals for Liverpool in 2017-18, the highest ever haul in a 38-match campaign.

No less astonishing is the fact that Sunday’s hat-trick was the third Haaland has scored for City, said Colin Millar in the Daily Mirror. It took Michael Owen – previously the fastest player to three PL hat-tricks – 48 games to reach that milestone. Cristiano Ronaldo, the game’s greatest ever goalscorer (who was watch­ing from the bench on Sunday), has bagged just three hat-tricks for United in 232 appearances.

‘Intoxicating’ football

What makes Haaland so uniquely dangerous is that he combines the traditional virtues of the centre forward – explosiveness, muscularity and a predatory goalscoring instinct – with the pace of a world-class sprinter, said Pol Ballus on The Athletic. Playing for Dortmund in 2020, he came close to breaking the world record for 60m, when he covered the distance in 6.64 seconds. As a result of this blistering pace, Haaland can “avoid being caught offside while still managing to find positions from which he can finish first time”.

Already ridiculously good before Haaland’s arrival, City are now an “even better, more exciting” team, said Henry Winter in The Times. “Rarely has English football witnessed such intoxicating football.” It’s true that Arsenal have a one-point lead in the league, but on the evidence of this performance, it is City who “play the best football” and who are firm favourites to retain their title.

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