Guardiola: Nobody can compete with Haaland at his age

By Sports Desk October 04, 2022

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says no player in world football can compete with the standards set by Erling Haaland at his age as he challenged the striker to continue improving.

Haaland made history on Sunday by becoming the first player to score hat-tricks in three successive home Premier League matches as City thumped rivals Manchester United 6-3.

The Norway international has 17 goals in 11 appearances in all competitions since arriving at the Etihad Stadium from Borussia Dortmund, where he tallied a prolific 86 goals in 89 games.

Aged 22 years and 47 days, Haaland last month overtook Kylian Mbappe as the youngest player to net 25 Champions League goals, also doing so in the quickest time (20 games).

And Guardiola believes "the numbers speak for themselves" when it comes to Haaland, who will be looking to add to his growing tally in Wednesday's Champions League Group G tie with Copenhagen.

"At his age no one can compete with him. No one," Guardiola said. "We are very happy to have him. In training he is the same – sometimes he does some spectacular things. We are incredibly happy to have him."

Haaland is averaging a goal every 48 minutes in the Premier League, which is the best rate of anyone to have scored more than once in the competition's history.

He has found the net from 42 per cent of his shots (14 goals from 33 attempts) – the best conversion rate of any player with at least 20 efforts since such records were first recorded in the 2003-04 campaign.

Phil Foden, himself aged just 22, scored a hat-trick of his own in the derby thrashing of United and received strong plaudits from his manager. 

"He's an exceptional player who has grown up a lot," Guardiola said at Tuesday's pre-Copenhagen press conference. 

"He's reliable, so intense and clever in everything he does. He can also play every three days. Both he and Haaland know they can do better and hopefully they can do it."

City's win against United was their fourth in a row in all competitions as they extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches.

The reigning English champions are top of their Champions League group thanks to wins over Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund, whereas Copenhagen have just one point and have yet to score.

Indeed, the Danish side have only scored one goal in six Champions League matches against English opponents, with that goal the winner from Marcus Allback in a 1-0 win over United in November 2006.

But with many predicting a routine home victory on Wednesday, Guardiola admits he faces a challenge ensuring his players maintain their high standards no matter who the opposition.

"That's the problem. After the game versus United, it's the biggest issue," said Guardiola, who confirmed Kyle Walker will play no part due to injury. 

"Hopefully I can show them to pay lots of attention. It's not easy to break the structure [Copenhagen] had against Sevilla. I know exactly what they are able to do. 

"They have quality. From goal-kicks, when they have the ball, they don't just play it long. They have courage to play and we have to force them to play long balls. I was surprised how many things they do."

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    The Taeguk Warriors caused something of a shock by reaching the first knockout round of the tournament at the expense of Uruguay, with South Korea scoring a dramatic winner against Portugal on matchday three.

    Brazil await in the last 16 and there remains some doubt over the fitness of talisman Neymar, who injured his ankle in the Selecao's first match of the tournament.

    Neymar's involvement will be determined in training on Sunday, and Bento hopes he is ultimately passed fit.

    "It would be hypocritical if I said that it's better to play against Neymar than without him, but to be fair, I always prefer the best players to be on the field. If not, we hope it's not because of injury, that's for sure," he said.

    "It will be up to the coach, Tite, to decide whether he's in the starting line-up if he's fit to play, and we'll design the best strategy to play against a great national team that is full of balance and adding more and more talented players."

    Nevertheless, Bento clearly feels South Korea's chances of causing an upset have not been helped by FIFA.

    The Portuguese coach vented his frustration at the governing body scheduling games just 72 hours apart, particularly given the emotional exhaustion from their turnaround against Portugal.

    "Unfortunately, we don't have much time to train, because 72 hours is too little, I doubt any team can do that," he added.

    "After physical tiredness, and the emotional fatigue, we let the players rest [on Saturday] and only trained this morning, and of course that's a burden for the team.

    "We have an additional burden compared to Brazil because they changed their line-up in the last game.

    "They did something we couldn't do in the last game and honestly speaking, I was watching the 2018 World Cup and after the group stage, I do not remember seeing games played after 72 hours. The spaces between games was longer.

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    "I'm a realist. I conveyed we have a tough task ahead of us, but we have to try," he said. "If they needed me to motivate them for a last-16 game at the World Cup, they'd be in a bad spot.

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  • Brazil coach Tite wishes Pele good health in 'difficult moment' Brazil coach Tite wishes Pele good health in 'difficult moment'

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  • Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash

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    Japan were the shock victors of Group E in Qatar, having claimed 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain either side of a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.

    Runners-up to France in 2018, Croatia have only lost two of their eight knockout stage games at the World Cup (W4 D2), while Japan have never progressed beyond the last 16.

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    "At some point, when Costa Rica were leading against Germany, Spain were out of the tournament, so they couldn't allow themselves to lose. Japan deserved to win.

    "Before the group stage, if we could choose an opponent in the next round, some people may have said Japan, but after seeing them beat Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easier opponent.

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    Croatia might have progressed from a group that also included Belgium and Canada, but failed to score in two of their matches – they had only drawn a blank in two of 13 matches at the tournament in the 2006, 2014 and 2018 editions combined.

    Dalic's side like to control possession, but that could play into Japan's hands. They averaged just 32.3 per cent of the ball across their three group stage games. Indeed, their two wins over Spain and Germany came with 17.7 per cent and 26.1 per cent possession respectively, while the one match they lost came when they had more of the ball against Costa Rica (56.8 per cent).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Japan – Ritsu Doan

    Three of Japan's four goals scored have been scored by substitutes. Ritsu Doan has netted two of these. 

    Only three players have ever scored at least three goals as a substitute at a single World Cup – Andre Schurrle in 2014 (three), Roger Milla in 1990 (four), and Laszlo Kiss in 1982 (three).

    Croatia – Ivan Perisic

    Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric run the midfield for Croatia, but their attack is not quite as world-class.

    That being said, in Ivan Perisic they have a wide player more than capable of chipping in. The 33-year-old has scored nine goals at major tournaments, which is a joint record for Croatia along with Davor Suker.

    Perisic has also set up seven goals at either the Euros or the World Cup, a national record, and no Croatia player has had more shots so far in Qatar than his tally of five.

    PREDICTION

    This will be the third World Cup meeting between Japan and Croatia, with Japan winless and goalless in the previous two – a 1-0 defeat in 1998 and a goalless draw in 2006, both in the group stage. 

    Opta's model says the odds are against Japan, who are given a 26 per cent chance of progressing to the last eight. Croatia are the favourites (46.1 per cent).

    Do not be surprised to see this one go to extra-time, though – the draw is ranked at a 27.9 per cent chance.

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