Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland both played starring roles in their club’s Champions League round of 16 first leg victories against Barcelona and Sevilla respectively
If the Champions League round of 16 first leg fixtures confirmed anything for football fans around the world, it’s that we have two generational talents on our hands in Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.
Mbappe, in his first ever appearance against Barcelona, tore their backline to shreds, collecting the match ball at the end of the game after knocking three past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. The pick of the bunch was his third, where he stroked the ball into the top corner following a blistering counterattack, spearheaded by Julian Draxler.
Haaland didn’t quite match Mbappe’s three goals, but he did score two and set up one to see Borussia Dortmund head back to Signal Iduna Park with a 3-2 advantage over Sevilla. His brace against the Spanish outfit saw him break Roy Makaay’s record in reaching double figures for Champions League goals for a single team.
While the latest round of games showcased the rise of two players who will most likely dominate the next decade, it also highlighted the inevitable decline of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite scoring a penalty to put Barcelona one-nil up, Messi was far below his incredibly high standards, with many people pointing out that he looked disinterested. The night after, Ronaldo failed to get on the scoresheet in Porto, as his side fell to a 2-1 loss.
While Messi and Ronaldo are still up there with the best attacking players, the battle to be the best player in the world, for me, is now between Mbappe and Haaland and will be for years to come.
Mbappe possesses blistering pace, the ability to take the ball past the world’s best defenders, and, most importantly, has a sensational eye for goal, whether being played down the middle or out wide.
Haaland, despite his six-foot-four frame, also has explosive speed, but what makes the Norwegian striker world-class isn’t just his all-round play; it’s his incredible scoring record.
The 20-year-old, who joined Dortmund from RB Salzburg last year, has netted a highly impressive 17 goals in as many Bundesliga games. If you think that’s impressive, then his Champions League record will send you over the edge.
Haaland has scored eight goals in just five Champions League appearances this season, averaging a goal every 54 minutes, seeing him the top scorer in the competition with a two-goal cushion. Erling Haaland and European football seem to be a match made in heaven, with the striker netting 18 goals in only 13 Champions League appearances for two different clubs.
Mbappe isn’t a bad goalscorer himself, netting 16 and assisting six times in 21 Ligue 1 appearances, averaging a goal every 91 minutes.
When you compare Mbappe and Haaland’s statistics in Europe’s elite competition to Messi and Ronaldo’s, it becomes apparent that they are no longer just the future top two; they are already competing for the throne that has been subjected to a decade-long battle.
Mbappe is averaging 0.84 goals per game this tournament, with an xG (expected goals*) of 0.88, while Haaland is averaging 1.69 per game (xG of 0.99), according to Infogol. Messi – who’s subject to plenty of transfer speculation at the moment – is averaging 0.8 per game (xG of 0.9), with his long-time nemesis, Ronaldo, averaging 0.81 goals (xG of 0.83).
In terms of assists, Mbappe is averaging 0.5 per game (xA of 0.54), while Haaland is averaging 0.21 (xA of 0.24). Messi is averaging 0.4 per game (xA of 0.47), while Ronaldo - who isn’t exactly known for his generosity on the pitch - is averaging 0.2 (xA of 0.12).
It is clear from these statistics and the performances they produce week-in-week-out that Mbappe and Haaland have the world at their feet, but they must continue to challenge themselves rather than remain in their comfort zone.
Without disrespecting the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, the standard isn’t as high as the Premier League, which, in my opinion, is the toughest league in the world to shine in. Both players have been linked with moves to England, and I think testing their talents in the top division would be the next logical steps in their careers.
It has been reported by various news outlets that Haaland had a £65 million release clause installed in his contract, but it cannot be activated until 2022. With this in mind, Manchester City and Manchester United are circling the teenager, looking to acquire his services at a cut-throat price.
In my opinion, Manchester City would be an excellent move for the Norwegian, as they look for a long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero. Being coached by Pep Guardiola would undoubtedly turn him into the world’s best striker if he isn’t already.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is also reported to be extremely interested in Mbappe, whose contract expires next summer. With Liverpool’s infamous front three not getting any younger, it would be a great move for all parties if the Reds could prize him away from the French giants, who will drive a hard bargain.
Neither player would come cheap in any sense of the word, but personal battles between Mbappe and Haaland in England would be good for both their careers and the Premier League.
* Expected goals (xG) quantifies the quality of any given scoring opportunity, giving each chance a probability of being scored. The higher the probability, the better the chance. xG provides a descriptive look back at individual games or over a longer period of time, helping to give an insight into future performance - Infogol