Champions League is music to Erling Haaland's ears as Man City begin Euro quest at Sevilla

Striker has prolific record in European football's premier competition

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In the lead-up to his debut in club football’s most glamorous competition, Erling Haaland turned up the volume on his car stereo.

Blasting out, in earshot of his captain as he drove to training at the Austrian club RB Salzburg, was the anthem played before kick-off at every Champions League fixture.

Haaland makes his own music sometimes, as part of a band he formed with boyhood friends. But he lists the Uefa anthem among his favourite tracks.

It has been an exceptional stimulant, too, for a footballer consuming record after record for prolific and prodigious goalscoring.

On that European Cup debut, three years ago, the 19-year-old had barely finished hearing the last bars of the anthem when he registered his first Champions League goal.

There were not yet two minutes on the clock as Salzburg opened their group phase against Genk of Belgium, Haaland accepting a neat through-ball from Takumi Minamino to open his account. By half time, he had scored a hat-trick, with a classic left-footed finish, breaking away from the nearest defender, sandwiched between two goals with his right foot.

Haaland was just 19 then. By the time he had turned 20, he was into double figures in the competition. He followed his hat-trick against Genk with a goal at Anfield, turning a 3-0 deficit to 3-3 in a seven-goal thriller that eventually swung Liverpool’s way.

Soccer Football - Champions League - Group E - FC Salzburg v KRC Genk - Red Bull Arena Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria - September 17, 2019  RB Salzburg's Erling Braut Haaland celebrates scoring their first goal      REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

He scored at Napoli’s San Paolo, and struck a brace in the home meeting with the Italian club. By the time he completed his transfer to Borussia Dortmund that winter, he had eight goals from six group stage games.

He promptly scored twice on his European debut for Dortmund, against Paris Saint-Germain, one of those goals a thunderous drive with that powerful left foot.

This carriage of individual success will on Tuesday be married for the first time to a Manchester City team with which Haaland expects to one day be hearing the Champions League anthem blast out ahead of a final.

Salzburg, who he helped turn into a genuine upstart force in the competition, were never going to go that far. Dortmund could not channel the Haaland effect further than the quarter-finals, PSG reversing the damage the teenage Haaland had inflicted in the first leg of that last-16 tie in 2019/20.

The following year, it was City who eliminated Dortmund, by which time the City manager Pep Guardiola was becoming convinced that he should put himself first in the queue for the most coveted centre-forward in the game, signing Haaland three months ago.

Gallery: Aston Villa 1 Manchester City 1

His accumulation of Champions League goals so far stands at 23 in 19 appearances. Or a goal every 64 minutes and the bad news for Sevilla – against whom Haaland will make his European bow for City Tuesday in the opening fixture of the group phase – is that his appetite for the competition only seems to grow in their company.

A little over 19 months ago, he led a stirring Dortmund comeback at the Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, venue for this evening’s Group G collision. Dortmund trailed early. By half time they were 3-1 ahead, thanks to a Haaland assist, then a trademark rampaging run en route to goal and a second strike from the Norwegian.

In that tie, he became the first player to amass 20 goals in the Champions League before the age of 21. Naturally he scored in the second leg, his brace ensuring Dortmund progressed to their quarter-final – against City – by 5-4 on aggregate.

Sevilla’s manager, Julen Lopetegui, was not keen to revisit Haaland’s last adventure against his side when addressing the media on Monday. He instead that even without their new signing, already into double figures for goals from just six matches in the Premier League, City were formidable.

“They were English champions before Haaland and have been champions several times,” pointed out Lopetegui. “I prefer not to focus on individuals.”

The midfielder, Suso, followed the party line. “Haaland is a very good player, obviously. But he needs the other players behind him, too.”

Soccer Football - Champions League - Round of 16 Second Leg - Borussia Dortmund v Sevilla - Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, Germany - March 9, 2021 Borussia Dortmund's Erling Braut Haaland in action Pool via REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

Lopetegui needs Sevilla’s passionate fans behind them – “they will be with us, especially on a Champions League night,” promised the coach – and, after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at home to Barcelona, the third in four Liga matches, that cannot be guaranteed over the 90 minutes.

The club that won the 2020 Europa League have had a poor start to the campaign, and an unusually difficult summer transfer window.

There were major departures, such as Diego Carlos joining Aston Villa and Jules Kounde moving to Barcelona. That pair had built a formidable partnership over the last three years in central defence – precisely the area of the pitch where extra vigilance and expertise are required when Haaland swings into town, with his favourite anthem playing over the loudspeakers.

Updated: September 06, 2022, 2:40 AM
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