Time to leave England.
Even now, the note seemed like a formality. The most goals scored in 38 Premier League games is 32 goals, a feat achieved by Mohamed Salah in 2017-18.
With Sunday’s hat-trick, Erling Haaland has 14 league goals this season.
There are still 30 rounds to go. He needs 19 more goals.
He would have been able to do that had he not been injured or had lost his rhythm completely. Some have voted for “Dixie” Dean, who scored 60 goals for Everton in 1927-28, but that was almost 100 years ago.
If Haaland’s performance is to be judged in the right context, we have to leave England. We have to go to Spain.
We have to look at Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Who can eat where?
Spaniards have an expression for such comparisons. They like to say that a player can “sit at the same table” as the best.
Often this is said about names that should approach Ronaldo and/or Messi. In 2016, Haaland’s coach Pep Guardiola said that Kevin De Bruyne could sit at the table “next to” Messi. So De Bruyne is the best of men.
In fact, Ronaldo and Messi almost always eat alone.
If someone pulled up a chair and sat at this table, they would have to score roughly one goal per game for 10-15 years.
They have to win a sea of league titles and preferably four or five Champions Leagues. Thus, it is madness, in general, to mention Haaland in such a context.
But if we just look at the number of goals Haaland has scored – at the moment – then there is no doubt. The speed he was currently maintaining was on par with the top two.
Three weeks ago, The Athletic’s website set the record for most goals scored in European leagues after 1945. There you can see how dominant Ronaldo and Messi are.
Among the best four seasons, each has two seasons. Messi scored 50 goals in La Liga in 2011-12. Ronaldo scored 48 goals in 2014-15. Then they each had their own season with 46 goals.
Then came Josip Skoblar with 44 goals in the French top division in 1970-71.
Then we have Messi with 43 goals in 2014-15.
A little further comes Robert Lewandowski with 41 goals in 2020-21.
Only legends reach such heights. Excellent strikers score about one goal every 90 minutes they are on the pitch. Even Ronaldo and Messi used to be around this, or maybe a little above.
The same thing happened to Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe and Haaland himself.
When a player is close to 1.50 goals per 90 minutes that is what is special. And now, Haaland was way ahead.
Almost one goal per half
If you compare the numbers with Ronaldo and Messi, you will see how special this is. When Messi scores 50, he scores 1.38 goals per 90 minutes.
When he scored 46 goals the following season, he was at an incredible 1.56.
Ronaldo? He gave 1.39 in his best season.
This is the highlight of a decade of domination from both of them. Lewandowski had one season at the same level in 2020-21, when he was at 1.50.
So far this season, Haaland has blown them all, with 1.91 goals per 90 minutes.
So what does this really mean?
That says the most about Haaland’s current productivity. That reflects a pace high enough to break all one-season records, even Ronaldo and Messi.
But the most important words by far. What makes Ronaldo and Messi so great is that they have maintained their averages throughout the season.
Many strikers have scored multiple goals in the previous eight games. There are many factors that can – and almost certainly can want to – influence Haaland. He could be injured, suspended and rested. Rivals can come up with better plans on how to stop it.
If he continues like this and plays with every remaining minute of the season, he will score 71 league goals. This is practically impossible.
Check out Haaland’s score against United here:
Something more useful is to use Ronaldo and Messi as examples of what can actually be achieved. They and Haaland are superstars who have been given starring roles in a team that is so good, so rich and so extraordinary, that they have had enough chances to break records.
Ronaldo in particular is a good comparison. Like Haaland, he scores goals with extreme physique, constant focus, an insatiable appetite, and a unique ability to run time and smell chances.
Often they score two goals with just one touch. They were on the pitch almost just to finish.
Earlier this season Haaland reminded Ronaldo of 2014-15.
Way to the top
At that time, Ronaldo started stronger than what Haaland does now. He scored 15 goals in the first eight rounds, although he missed one of them through injury.
He ended up playing 35 games – and scoring 48 goals.
It seems natural for Haaland to play the same number of games, as long as he remains injury-free. If he wants to overtake Ronaldo, he needs another 34 goals in 27 games. That says something about the standard that Ronaldo and Messi have set – and the way to get there.
But if anything is going to succeed in England, it’s Haaland. He plays in the best teams, and has a coach who always gets his strikers to score goals. He also played in an era where the best teams were very good, so the collective record continues to fall.
If he manages to score 40 league goals, it will be a great achievement. The numbers from Spain are just the ceiling heights of the two best players of all time when they were at their peak.
But herein lies the debate about Haaland now. Before the season, there was talk of whether he would make it.
Now about what is possible.
How many goals has Haaland scored in this year’s Premier League season?
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