Not since The Big Show emerged from underneath the ring at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre pay-per-view show in 1999 has a big man had such an impact on his debut. Erling Braut Haaland made his Champions League debut for Red Bull Salzburg against Genk with all eyes on him after bossing the Austrian Bundesliga.
He walked off 72 minutes later having delivered a message to all of Europe.
The 19-year-old netted a first-half treble as the Austrians ran out 6-2 victors. Heading into their clash against Liverpool, it’s Jesse Marsch’s team who top the group. Until that point, many had wondered whether he’d be able to replicate his domestic form in Europe’s premier club competition.
He kicked off the season in the first-team in a new-look Red Bull team. They parted with a number of key players during the summer and lost manager Marco Rose to Gladbach. The big question surrounding their campaign was whether they’d be able to deliver as previous incarnations of the side had.
We may only be in October but they’ve already bettered what the Salzburg team of yesteryear managed by securing a place in the Champions League group stages.
On paper, replacing prolific goalscorer Moanes Dabbur looked to be a problem. The Israel international scored 66 goals across two seasons but agreed to sign with La Liga side Sevilla.
Red Bull Salzburg signed Haaland in January, parting with a rumoured £5 million to land the highly-rated youngster. But as the 2019/20 campaign kicked off, that’s all the striker was; a highly-rated youngster.
He’d netted nine goals in a single match at the under-20 World Cup and there was a lot of hype surrounding him but there was no guarantee he’d deliver for the first-team, not with so much pressure on his shoulders.
A blank in the first game of the season wasn’t the best of starts for the powerhouse forward. It could’ve knocked his confidence.
In the next Austrian Bundesliga match, he scored in what was a 4-1 win. He followed that up with his first hat-trick of the season in his third appearance. He scored four in the next three domestic matches before the international break. He returned from duty with Norway to score back to back hat-tricks, one of which arrived in the Champions League, to take his tally to 14 in nine appearances for Red Bull Salzburg.
He looks like an unstoppable force. He’s the same height as Virgil van Dijk but unlike other 6ft4ins forwards he has pace, too. Haaland isn’t explosively quick but he’s no slouch and he’s going to be one of the toughest tests for this Liverpool backline if he is passed fit to start on Wednesday.
He wins 50% of his aerial duels, as expected given the size of him, but what is a surprise is just how good he is with the ball at his feet. He’s averaging 3.9 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes and he’s completing 50 per cent of them. Haaland is breezing past opponents with ease. It’s going under the radar, too.
The Salzburg forward is a volume monster, averaging over five shots per game in all competitions. By no means a one-trick pony, Haaland manages to get shots off from all angles in different areas of the pitch using both feet. The No.30 is landing 50% of his efforts on target.
Even more impressively, Haaland manages to play 35% of his passes forward. Most strikers tend to play backwards but he’s positive on the ball and always looks to turn to face the opposition’s goal.
Since Jurgen Klopp’s been appointed, the Reds have faced some fearsome forwards. Lionel Messi, Neymar, Robert Lewandowski to name but a few. However, Haaland could be the most dangerous of the bunch. He lacks experience, yes, but the Red Bull forward is a horrible opponent to come up against, he’s in the form of his life and he’s full of confidence. A big performance at Anfield could seal the deal for him with Europe’s elite already queuing up to keep an eye on him.