Haaland on same level as  Messi, Ronaldo — Pep Pep Guardiola

MANCHESTER. — Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said striker Erling Haaland is of the same calibre as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo after the Norwegian international scored twice in Saturday’s 4-1 Premier League victory at Southampton.

Haaland scored on a header and remarkable bicycle kick, taking his tally to 44 goals in all competitions this season, with 30 of those coming in the Premier League.

His total is now tied for the most ever by a Premier League player in all competitions in a single campaign, equalling Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 and Mohamed Salah in 2017-18.

“We have lived two incredible decades with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but he is on that level,” Guardiola told the BBC on Saturday.

Guardiola was in awe of Haaland’s execution of his second goal, which he acrobatically volleyed home off a cross from Jack Grealish.

“It is not easy to pick the ball up in the sky and put it on the grass,” Guardiola said. “You can’t imagine at his height he has this ability. Exceptional goal.”

The 22-year-old, who joined City from Borussia Dortmund, is now four short of the record of 34 goals in a Premier League season set by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole.

City were second in the league with 67 points after 29 games, five behind leaders Arsenal before the Gunners clashed with Liverpool yesterday.

Southampton are bottom on 23 points, four behind Everton in 17th.

Southampton keeper Gavin Bazunu had to make an early save from Jack Grealish after a sweeping attack by the visitors, pushing away a stinging shot and steering the ball out of the path of the onrushing Haaland.

Kamaldeen Sulemana wasted a great early chance for Southampton after a powerful run with only Nathan Ake back to cover, but his touch let him down and City were able to avert the danger, and it was to prove costly as Haaland shook off the rust and opened the scoring.

After fluffing a couple of early touches, he found the net for the visitors in the final minute of the first half, meeting Kevin De Bruyne’s cross with a powerful close-range header that gave Southampton keeper Bazunu no chance.

Jack Grealish made it 2-0 in the 58th minute, sprinting onto another sublime pass from De Bruyne before firing a left-foot shot that Bazunu saved, only for the winger to slam home the rebound with his right to double City’s advantage.

Grealish turned provider 10 minutes later, racing away down the left before chipping a cross to Haaland, which the Norwegian acrobatically volleyed home, landing on the turf and sitting cross-legged with a broad smile on his face to celebrate.

He was replaced by Julian Alvarez and though Southampton pulled a goal back through substitute Sekou Mara in the 72nd minute, they conceded a penalty almost immediately and Alvarez restored City’s three-goal lead from the spot.

De Bruyne’s assist for Haaland’s first goal was his 100th in the Premier League, and the Belgian displayed his usual modesty before admitting that it was unlikely he would ever score a goal like Haaland’s bicycle kick.

“I am a creative player and try to create as much as possible . . . it is nice, maybe when I am done playing football it is something I will look back on,” he told the BBC.

“Haaland’s second goal, you will never see me do that! You would get me to Southampton hospital if I do that!” he added. – AFP

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