It’s not often you can point to very specific moments where the footballing landscape was altered, but there can be no doubting that we saw a changing of the guard over the course of two nights this week.
Tuesday night’s Champions League meeting between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain was billed as a relatively even affair, particularly since both Neymar Jr and Angel Di Maria were missing for the visitors. Kylian Mbappé shredded that notion to pieces with a hat-trick at the Camp Nou which saw the Parisians take a 4-1 lead into the second leg.
On Wednesday Borussia Dortmund tore Sevilla a new one with their relentless attacking. Although the 3-2 scoreline suggests a close affair, the Andalusians were second best by a mile, thanks largely to the unstoppable Erling Braut Haaland.
The Norwegian scored a brace to lead his side to victory, while at the same time Cristiano Ronaldo was struggling in his native Portugal as his Juventus side succumbed to a 2-1 defeat. It spoke volumes.
The five goals between the two youngsters means they both found the net 28 times in the Champions League since the start of last season. Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, meanwhile, have scored just 15.
As Duncan Alexander tweeted when he shared that statistic on Wednesday evening, change happens slowly, then all at once.
What’s most startling about those numbers is nine of those goals from Messi and Ronaldo have come from the penalty spot. They simply do not dominate this arena like they used to.
In Mbappé and Haaland, we have two players ready to take their place. Football never moves in a linear motion, but if they were to continue the way they are now they could conceivably overtake them, in terms of raw numbers at least.
The pair are the only players to ever score at least 18 Champions League goals before their 21st birthday. We thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence to have two footballers at the level of Messi and Ronaldo playing at the same time, but could it be happening all over again?
For some reason, there has been a widespread framing of Kylian Mbappé’s midweek performance as a sort of coming of age moment, as if he has finally arrived. This conveniently leaves out the fact that he has already won four league titles with two different clubs, played in a Champions League final, and is only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final. Which he won, by the by.
But it is undeniable that Tuesday night saw the PSG striker put in one of his complete performances without the aid of Neymar or Di Maria. He got a solo run on the big stage and did not pass it up.
Before Tuesday no player had scored more than one goal in a Champions League knockout tie at the Camp Nou. Mbappé didn’t just wipe that record clean, he annihilated it from existence by scoring three times. He is now just the third player to score a hat-trick at the famous stadium in the competition’s history.
The player with whom Mbappé has drawn the most comparisons is, of course, Ronaldo Nazario, but he has already scored more goals (24) in the Champions League than the Brazilian (14). It’s little wonder then that Liverpool fans are desperate for him to move to Merseyside.
Although Erling Haaland does not have the medals that Mbappé does, it’s clear that he is operating on a similar level. After all, only Haaland (9) has played a direct hand in more Champions League goals than Mbappé (8) this season.
Every team who has tried to stop him in the competition over the past two seasons has failed, with Haaland scoring against the eight sides he’s faced so far. He is inevitable.
His eight goals are the most in the competition this season, all of which have come from inside the area and in open play. Only Messi (17) has had more shots on target than his 14.
Erling Haaland’s brace tonight means he is:
🔹️ the first player to score 18 goals in his first 13 UCL games ⚽️
🔹️the joint-second highest Norwegian goalscorer in UCL history 🇳🇴
— The Football Faithful (@FootyFaithfuI) February 17, 2021
Haaland is the first player to score 18 goals in his opening 13 Champions League games, and according to Twenty3, he has converted an incredible 43% of his career shots in the competition. When he plays in Europe, he’s scoring just over a goal per half of football.
That puts him just one behind Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in terms of the top scoring Norwegians in Champions League history.
With 25 goals from 24 appearances in all competitions this season, Haaland is one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe right now. That’s why both Chelsea and Manchester City are being linked with a mega move for the 20-year-old.
Erling Braut Haaland is truly… something else. Really, no words can express what an anomaly he is. Here is is compared to Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski and Mbappé at his same age. Great respect for this 20.5 year old kid. 13 matches, 18 goals. Simply wow. pic.twitter.com/g0qcgQwny1
— footantic (@footantic) February 18, 2021
Over the past two decades we have seen Messi and Ronaldo scale new heights that we all figured would never be reached again. But these two are going to give it their best shot.
Sources: Uefa, FBref, WhoScored, Duncan Alexander, Twenty3, Opta.