Man City superhuman Erling Haaland has what it takes to beat Lionel Messi landmark

On current form and without a World Cup on his schedule, Norwegian striker can aim for surreal goalscoring targets

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The strong word is that Ralph Hassenhuttl’s number is almost up at Southampton. Safe to say the Austrian, the fourth longest-serving manager in the Premier League, would prefer a different fixture to act as the make-or-break game to decide his future than Saturday’s trip to Manchester City.

At City, Erling Haaland’s numbers are certainly up. And up. And up. After the Norwegian scored his 18th and 19th City goals against FC Copenhagen on Wednesday, it became clear that perhaps this only way to prevent Haaland on current form from scoring a hat-trick in every outing at the Etihad is to restrict him to only 45 minutes of action – or to let the defenders marking him lose their bearings so badly they start doing his scoring for him.

Poor David Khocholava has his name next to City’s third in the 5-0 win over the Danish side, because a loose ball, heading towards a lurking Haaland, ricocheted off Copenhagen’s Denis Vavro before then deflecting off Khocholava for an own goal.

At that point, Kamil Grabara, the luckless visiting goalkeeper, could no longer disguise his exasperation. He made a remark to Haaland’s City colleague, Jack Grealish, that caused Grealish to smile. “I think it was after the third goal, their keeper said to me: ‘This guy’s not human'," revealed Grealish.

The superhuman was taken off at half-time, his goal ratio since he joined City from Borussia Dortmund in the summer by then trimmed to one every 50 minutes of action. Take away his blank competitive debut in the Community Shield at the beginning of August, and he’s averaging a goal per every half-match he has played in the competitions that City value highest: the Champions League and the Premier League.

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Imagine for a moment that Haaland finishes the club season with no grave injuries and ends up playing as much as, say Joao Cancelo did in 2021-22, when the Portuguese was seldom rested by City, being so valuable for his versatility and his consistency. He made 51 starts across competitions, and, very rarely taken off, he played 4,622 minutes all told.

Were Haaland to match that level of activity and maintain his astonishing goalscoring form so far, he’d hit more than 90 goals this season.

Far-fetched? It is, but there are special circumstances around this particular campaign that suggest Haaland may be spared some of the wear-and-tear injuries or general fatigue that strikers with his explosive qualities expect at some point each season.

Haaland will not be going to the World Cup in November, because Norway have not qualified, which means he can spend a month focused on physical conditioning, while many of the defenders who will have to face him, from late December, in club football recover from a sapping international tournament in Qatar.

Haaland, it bears reminding, is still only 22, and his record with injury is encouraging. He has a big frame to carry and the bursts of acceleration that are such a crucial part of his game put strain on muscle fibres.

But his longest periods of recuperation at Dortmund were never longer than the seven-game stretch he was absent with a hip problem last autumn. He missed 16 games, spread across three injury lay-offs, for Dortmund last season and he still scored 29 times in all competitions, in his 30 appearances.

The City he has joined are more creative, better set up for a long run in the Champions League than Dortmund were, and Haaland has taken into his adventure in Manchester the confidence to aim at some of the more surreal goalscoring targets of the 21st century.

There’s the Lionel Messi landmark of 11 seasons ago. Pep Guardiola, the manager who withdrew Haaland at half-time against Copenhagen – preserving his freshness for Hassenhuttl’s Southampton and cutting short his attempt at a fourth home hat-trick for City – was witness and facilitator of Messi’s historic goal-spree of 2011-2012.

As Guardiola, then the Barcelona manager, steered Messi into a more central position in an outstanding Barca team, the Argentinian, then 24, responded with 73 goals in all competitions. That’s one for every 72 minutes he was on the pitch. Messi may need Haaland to ease off if his historic, epic season is to remain the ultimate modern touchstone for world-class goalscoring.

Updated: October 07, 2022, 4:08 AM