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Guardiola gushes over history-maker Haaland

China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-30 10:02
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Pep 'really impressed' as Norwegian adds yet another record to his collection

Yet another goals record on Erling Haaland's bulging resume had Pep Guardiola sounding on Tuesday — tongue-in-cheek — like he was growing tired of answering questions about his prolific scorer.

The 23-year-old became the fastest player to score 40 Champions League goals with his strike in the 54th minute. The goal sparked City's 3-2 comeback victory over RB Leipzig to clinch the English champion top spot in Group G with a round of group games remaining.

Three days earlier, Haaland had become the fastest player to net 50 Premier League goals — in 48 appearances — in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

"Again? I have to tell you again?" Guardiola laughed, when asked for comment. "A thousand million times, I'm really impressed. They won today. Another record. Congratulations. He's a fantastic player. I tell you many times, we're really, really pleased.

"We love him, not just for the goals he scores, but for many, many other things."

It took Haaland just 35 matches to reach 40 goals, smashing Ruud van Nistelrooy's mark of 45 games.

But more importantly to Guardiola, it kick-started City's comeback after a woefully sluggish first half left the host trailing by two goals for the first time in a Champions League game since 2018.

Guardiola said he hoped his players would learn from the roller-coaster game.

"To win in that game not comfortably, to realize, to put in front of the mirror and say, 'We have to do better,'" he said.

"But February (the round of 16) we'll be there top of the group, I don't know who we're going to face but the second leg will be (at home), and we showed again that we are able to make a comeback."

City took a different route to Etihad Stadium on Tuesday at Guardiola's request. The manager wanted his team to see the trinity statue of City greats Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee that was unveiled earlier in the day.

"I encouraged the club to drop us, the bus, there and we can walk," Guardiola said. "So another gesture for the three important (players)...really, really nice."

Foden fires

Trailing 2-0 at halftime, Phil Foden couldn't believe what he was seeing from City. By the end he had inspired a rousing fightback as the defending champion advanced to the knockout stage of the competition atop Group G.

"First half was the worst I've seen us. Courage and motivation changed it around," Foden said. "This team has a great mentality and it's so nice to see. We just needed that (first) goal to get going.

"We've got a great record at the Etihad and it only takes one goal to change things."

Foden scored one and helped to create two more as Guardiola's team preserved an unbeaten home record in the Champions League that dates back to 2018.

The England forward set up Haaland's 54th-minute goal and netted the equalizer in the 70th. He then played a part in the buildup for substitute Julian Alvarez's winner in the 87th to complete the comeback.

Goals in the 13th and 33rd minutes from Leipzig forward Lois Openda had given his side a great chance to return to Germany with an unlikely win.

However, City responded after the break, with Foden at the heart of the comeback.

"We had to be as relaxed as possible and we reacted really well," Guardiola said. "We are first in the group and I am very satisfied for the reaction at the end. The team runs and fights and has spirit."

Asked how he turned things around, Guardiola said: "We changed with our press in the second half because it wasn't effective. We didn't expect them to play like that."

City is now unbeaten in 29 home games in the competition since losing 2-1 against Lyon in September 2018. It has topped its Champions Group for seven seasons in a row.

Both teams had already qualified for the last 16. City has 15 points from five games, six points more than second-placed Leipzig.

Leipzig had suffered its heaviest European defeat when losing 7-0 at this venue in last season's round of 16.

That performance, which included Haaland scoring a record-equaling five goals in one Champions League match, had been a pointer to what City would go on to achieve — conquering Europe for the first time and also winning the Premier League title and FA Cup.

However, it quickly became clear there would be no repeat of that rout when Openda fired the visitor ahead. The Belgium forward shook off a challenge from Manuel Akanji and raced through on goal before placing a shot into the bottom corner to beat goalkeeper Stefan Ortega.

By the time he scored his second, City had missed chances through Ruben Dias and Rico Lewis.

Haaland wasted another chance before the break to sum up a sloppy first-half performance from City.

"What I told the guys was that we made them angry in the first half," Leipzig coach Marco Rose said. " (It was going to be) Difficult. That's what we knew and that's what we saw in the second half."


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