Manchester, England: The contrast could hardly have been more stark.
While Erling Haaland plundered his latest hat trick in a season that threatens to see him smash English Premier League scoring records, Cristiano Ronaldo sat glum-faced on the sideline.
Here was confirmation of a passing of the guard. We have entered the Haaland era, with the reigns of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi ever diminishing.
He is playing for Manchester City, arguably the most talented team in club soccer, and in Kevin de Bruyne has a provider of laser precision.
Haaland's three goals in a 6-3 rout of Ronaldo's Manchester United on Sunday pushed his total to 17 in 11 games for the league champion – 10 if the Community Shield is discounted. It is a mark of his devastating threat.
With 14 in the league, he is on course to surpass the 23 scored by last season’s joint Golden Boot winners, Mo Salah and Son Heung-Min, in just six games’ time.
Brentford at Etihad Stadium on Nov. 12 could be that moment. But given Haaland’s feats already, it seems unlikely he will have to wait so long.
It all just feels too easy for the 22-year-old Norwegian, who at 1.93 meters (6-foot-4) towers over most rivals, and weighing in at 86 kilograms (189 pounds) has the power to brush off the attentions of any center back who can get close to him.
That is before his break-neck turn of pace is taken into account, with just a couple of strides of his daunting gait taking him away from opponents, as well as the dexterity to reach the ball in areas he has no right to do so. See his “kung fu” goal against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last month.
It creates a corridor of possibility unlike any striker in the game right now. Haaland is, like, playing a video game in cheat mode. If the ball is anywhere near his vicinity in the final third, the goal is at threat.
It seems impossible to imagine the record of 34 league goals set by Andy Cole in 1994 and Alan Shearer in 1995 will not fall this season.
Ronaldo’s best was 31, while Sergio Aguero, City’s all-time leading goal-scorer, never managed more than 26.
To put Haaland’s numbers into context, Messi and Ronaldo still remain the benchmark.
Messi’s finest campaign saw him score an incredible 73 in all competitions for Barcelona in 2011-12, including 50 in the Spanish league. Ronaldo was at his most prolific in 2014-15 for Real Madrid, where he struck 61. The record in England’s top-flight is 60 by Everton’s Dixie Dean in 1928.
Haaland is on course to threaten those figures. In the league, he is tracking at 66 goals for a 38-game campaign.
The big question mark hangs over his fitness. Various muscular issues forced him to miss extended periods for Dortmund, but there have been no such concerns in the early stage of his City career.
Guardiola puts that down to the manner in which City’s medical department has handled him.
“Last season, he could not play many games, he was injured all the time,” Guardiola said. “Arrive here and we have incredible physios. Thanks to them he can play every 90 minutes.
“One of the most important departments is the doctors and physios and they help, so thank you to them. Last season, Dortmund couldn’t do it but we can do it.”
Specialist attention has included City doctor Mario Pafundi joining with Haaland on international duty to maintain his routine.
That has been done with the blessing of Norway coach Stale Solbakken, who finds himself handling a player on the verge of becoming a global icon.
Media members who follow the national team have spoken of increased security and the delayed announcement of news conferences involving Haaland to avoid a clamour of journalists fascinated by the forward.
Haaland’s profile has only risen since his $63 million transfer to City, but he has been a player groomed for stardom.
‘Team Haaland,’ which closely guides his career, has plotted his path from rejecting a move to Manchester United in 2019, to opting for City last summer despite interest from Real Madrid.
His father, former Leeds United and City midfielder Alf-Inge, oversees his son’s affairs.
Former Southampton striker Egil Ostenstad, who went into banking after his playing career, is available for financial advice. Coincidentally, Ostenstad also scored a hat trick against United in a 6-3 win for Southampton back in 1996.
Alf-Inge’s best man, Ivar Eggja, is also part of the team, and accompanied the player to his City unveiling in the summer.
Rafaela Pimenta, the lawyer who worked with the late super agent Mino Raiola, is also a key figure.
After delivering him to City, where Guardiola hopes he will be the missing piece in the club’s pursuit of a first Champions League title, Team Haaland’s next job is to secure what could be one of soccer’s biggest ever boot endorsements.
His deal with Nike has expired – sparking a scramble between the biggest sportwear manufacturers to secure their place on his feet.
He has been seen in different brands since joining City, including Nike, Adidas and Puma.
Those companies are desperate to land Haaland, even though he will not be around on the biggest showcase of all, the World Cup.
Norway’s failure to qualify for Qatar means he will be resting, while the world’s top players compete in the middle of what will be a heavily congested season due to the disruption to the club calendar.
That midseason break for Haaland has the potential to mean he is even sharper when the Premier League resumes in December.