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12 April 2024

Haaland hits 5, Pep reveals Julia Roberts disappointment


On a night when Erling Haaland set new standards in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola was preoccupied with Hollywood star Julia Roberts.
Never mind a record equalling five goals in one match - or the Manchester City striker becoming the fastest and youngest player to score 30 in European club soccer’s elite competition. Guardiola had other things on his mind after the 7-0 rout of Leipzig on Tuesday as City advanced to the quarterfinals with an 8-1 aggregate win.
Oscar winner Roberts, the City manager explained, is one of his three idols, along with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
But on a visit to the U.K. she chose to watch Manchester United, rather than Guardiola’s City team, which has won four Premier League titles in five years.
"She came in the period where we were better than United, in these four or five years,” he said. "And she went to visit Man United. She didn’t come to see us. That’s why this is… even if I win the Champions League (it) will not be compared for the fact that Julia Roberts came to Manchester and didn’t come to see us.”
Guardiola’s comments provided a digression from Haaland’s goal scoring feats on a night when he looked like the man to finally end City’s search for a first Champions League title.
So much for the suggestions the Norway striker is something of a problem for Pep Guardiola.
He is a goal machine who produced a statement performance to fire City into the quarterfinals.
"I’m blurry in my head. I remember shooting but not thinking,” Haaland said after he matched Lionel Messi and Luiz Adriano by scoring five in a single Champions League game.
Haaland needed only 25 games to score 30 goals, surpassing the record held by former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who reached that benchmark in 34.
At 22 years, 236 days old, Haaland is also the youngest player to score 30 Champions League goals - beating Kylian Mbappé, who had broken Messi's record.
That is exalted company to keep and was the perfect response to suggestions Haaland may have had a negative effect on a City team that trails first-place Arsenal by five points in the Premier League.
"The problem is every time he doesn’t score two or three goals we will be criticized for the rest of his career,” Guardiola said.
Haaland has now scored 39 goals this season in all competitions. Yet the English champions’ over-reliance on him has led to criticism that they have become more predictable since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund last summer.
But his record in Europe could prove a game-changer in City’s pursuit of the biggest prize in club soccer.
Despite dominating the Premier League since being taken over by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family in 2008, the club has endured a succession of disappointments in the Champions League - reaching the final just once, losing to Chelsea in 2021.
Guardiola is still waiting to win the competition for the first time since lifting it twice with Barcelona - in 2009 and 2011.
The Catalan coach has also never won it without Messi, who was the talisman of his brilliant Barcelona team.
In Haaland, who scored his five goals in a 35-minute spell either side of halftime, he may have finally found an inspirational figure to emulate the Argentine maestro.
"Incredible guy, huge talent. Power, mentality, he’s a serial winner,” Guardiola said before sounding a note of caution when recounting previous exits from the competition.
"We scored four goals here against Real Madrid, six against Monaco, four against Tottenham. A lot of the time we were out because we conceded a lot.”
Haaland wanted to be given the chance to score a double hat trick, which would have set a new goals record in a single Champions League game.
"My super strength is scoring goals," he said.
Guardiola said he did not know that the record was there to be taken.
For all the personal benchmarks reached by Haaland, of most importance to City is a place in the final eight.
Haaland opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute when Benjamin Henrichs was adjudged to have handled in the box after a video review.
He had his second and his 30th in the Champions League when heading in a rebound in the 24th after Kevin de Bruyne hit the bar.
His hat trick goal came in the the second minute of first-half stoppage time when bundling the ball over line after Ruben Dias hit the post with a header.
Ilkay Gundogan made it 4-0 just four minutes into the second half and Haaland scored two more in the 54th and 57th.
De Bruyne rounded off the scoring to make it 7-0 on the night with a curling shot into the top corner in time added on.
Guardiola has repeatedly claimed he does not feel added pressure to win the Champions League, but it will remain a blot on his City reign if he cannot deliver the title before walking away from the club.
Haaland could change all of that - and perhaps even tempt Roberts to a City game on her next trip to the U.K.