Haaland does the things that others cannot do
Erling Haaland’s finish for Manchester City’s winning goal against Borussia Dortmund was reminiscent of a famous Johan Cruyff goal for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid in 1973 – labelled the impossible goal as he rose to volley the ball in at the far post.
More modern audiences might be reminded of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Not only is Haaland head and shoulders above those around him – quite literally – he shares that acrobatic ability to contort his limbs like a martial-arts expert, establishing angles that others cannot.
What is certain is that there are very few players in the game’s history capable of the moments that this young man continues to produce. Dortmund were once the beneficiaries of this extraordinary talent. On this night, they were the victims of it.
Haaland now has 13 goals in his last eight games for Manchester City. It is a freakish return and yet such is his brilliance one wonders whether such a high output might be sustainable. Not quite like this, perhaps, but City are not even finding him as they can right now.
This was an unconvincing performance by the team in which he was starved of service throughout. But when the ball did reach him he looked astonishingly sharp, turning away from trouble, finding the openings for others. When City click, he could really have fun.
For now, it is more than enough. Dortmund did well. City struggled. And yet, as the supporters strode away from the stadium, it was the stunning denouement that will have been freshest in their mind. A hint of Cruyff, shades of Zlatan. But only one Erling Haaland.
Bellingham: The perfect mix of Lampard and Gerrard?
The bigger the stage. The bigger Jude Bellingham performs. That must be on Gareth Southgate’s mind ahead of the World Cup.
Mature beyond his years, the clamour for a more important role for Bellingham within the England set up looks set only to get louder as Qatar approaches. The debate is now not whether he’s on the plane, it’s whether you can leave him out of England’s first game on November 21 vs Iran. Southgate has already seen his talents up close when deployed in an aggressive midfield role that supported the strikers.
He was man of the match after an excellent showing when playing the full friendly with Ivory Coast earlier this year before bossing the midfield after replacing Kalvin Phillips – who played just four minutes from the bench in this clash – against Germany in the Nations League over the summer.
Inexperience is not a valid argument anymore. Bellingham already has a full Championship season and almost three Bundesliga campaigns under his belt, not to mention his 18 Champions League appearances and four goals in the competition. Yet again, he was Dortmund’s most potent and creative player against a City midfield that usually eats up 19-year-old’s for fun. The England man had already drawn Rodri into a booking having burst past him in midfield on 53 minutes before showing his eye for goal is developing with every minute he plays. His reading of the situation to beat the City defenders to Marco Reus’ cross was very Frank Lampard-like. The way he moves with the ball is very Steven Gerrard-like.
The days of debating whether Lampard and Gerrard can play together are gone. But England may have found someone who combines the skillset of both of those former greats.
Can you squeeze him in somewhere? Heck, England should be building their midfield around him.
Losing run continues, but much still to cheer for Rangers
Rangers entered their clash with in-form Napoli having lost their previous two games to Celtic and Ajax 4-0, results that produced much soul searching from manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
The Dutchman’s response was to double down, insisting he had no intention of changing his footballing philosophy simply on the basis of those two, albeit, painful reverses.
While his side did lose again, without scoring, to the Serie A leaders at Ibrox – just the second time they have suffered defeats in their opening two Champions League group games – it was a much-improved display from the hosts.
In fact, Rangers were unfortunate not to go in ahead at half-time and despite having to play most of the second half with 10 men, they still mustered 10 shots in the match, six more than they managed against Ajax in their opening group-stage match.
Now all they need to do is find the back of the net in their next group contest, at Anfield on October 4.
Different day, same problems
It’s clear to see Graham Potter has inherited a squad of disjointed, disenfranchised players.
From Thiago Silva’s rash challenging to the isolated, almost non-existent, figures of both Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, there is significant work to be done.
Potter cannot simply wave a magic wand. If fans were expecting to understand what kind of team Chelsea will be under Thomas Tuchel’s successor – their performance against Salzburg did little to provide sufficient answers.
Many people questioned, scrutinised even, Chelsea’s transfer policy over the summer – one that shunned the pursuit of a recognised No 9 yet aggressively chased the deadline day signing of 33-year-old Aubameyang.
Perhaps that was a senseless swoop? Time will tell.
Chelsea did hold Salzburg in their own half for long periods but at no point did you believe the former Barcelona striker was going to make a discernible difference. His entries were lethargic, summed up by a wonderful Reece James delivery in the first half which evaded any hint of a target, with Aubameyang casually sauntering past the 18-yard line as the ball fizzed dangerously across the face of goal.
It exposed one of Chelsea’s numerous shortcomings. Raheem Sterling did indeed take his Champions League goal tally to 25 – the second-most of any English player – but if Potter relies solely on occasional goals from wide forwards, he’s sure to come continually unstuck.
Chelsea crave a focal point and Aubameyang will be afforded precious little time to impress should his form fail to inspire. There are ready-made replacements in waiting – expect them to be utilised if he cannot reach the mark.
Celtic’s dominance needs to be converted into goals
Ange Postecoglou’s vowed never to change from the fast, attacking football Celtic play week in, week out.
Just like against Real Madrid they had chances and plenty of them.
They are off the mark in Group F with one point, but the Celtic fans will have a feeling of frustration. Their team were dynamic and, most importantly, in the lead. It was hard to see Shakhtar scoring in the first half, but they showed why they’re among Europe’s elite with that quick counterattack.
This group is a three-way fight for second place with Real expected to be out of reach at the top.
Postecoglou said pre-match his players had to be more clinical and he will be demanding they get it right against RB Leipzig in their next match. They had more than enough chances to beat the Ukrainians.
If Celtic want to reach the Champions League knockout stages they have to make their dominance count.