Erling Braut Haaland’s phenomenal display in Borussia Dortmund’s 3-2 Champions League win over Sevilla on Wednesday was inspired by what he had seen the night before.
“I love the Champions League and when I saw Mbappe score the hat-trick yesterday I got free motivation, so thanks to him. It was a nice evening,” Haaland said after scoring two goals and setting up his side’s other in the first leg of their last-16 tie in Spain.
On Tuesday Kylian Mbappe’s devastating hat-trick allowed Paris Saint-Germain to sweep away Lionel Messi and Barcelona in a crushing 4-1 win at the Camp Nou.
Messi had put Barcelona ahead with a penalty, but by the end his side looked forlorn, and it looks certain to be a sixth straight year without Champions League success for arguably the greatest player of his, and possibly any, generation.
This week’s games in Europe’s elite club competition have confirmed that for Mbappe and Haaland, the sport’s two emerging young superstars, this is their time.
Not that time is exactly up for Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, who was unable to prevent Juventus losing 2-1 to Porto in Portugal.
Both remain world-beaters, but Messi is 33 and Ronaldo is 36. The Champions League’s two all-time top goal-scorers, by some distance, are into the twilight years of their careers.
Mbappe, who at 22 has already won the World Cup and got to the final of last season’s Champions League, became just the second player to score a hat-trick against Barcelona in the competition at the Camp Nou.
The last was a 21-year-old Andriy Shevchenko for Dynamo Kiev, in 1997.
“Paris Saint-Germain have a future great, who is going to be on the same level as Leo and Cristiano,” said Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann, a France team-mate of Mbappe.
In the first half against Sevilla, Haaland produced a jaw-dropping display of strength, pace, hold-up play and finishing as he helped Dortmund come from behind.
His brace left him with 18 goals in 13 Champions League appearances since the start of last season, with eight in six for Red Bull Salzburg and now 10 in seven for Dortmund.
The Norwegian, still 20, is on course at least to match Mbappe’s record of 19 Champions League goals before turning 21. Haaland’s birthday is in July.
“Goals since the start of last season in the Champions League: Messi and Ronaldo combined = 15. Haaland and Mbappe combined = 28,” tweeted former England striker Gary Lineker. He described Haaland as “unplayable”.
Haaland has scored 25 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season. Mbappe has a rather more modest 21 in 29.
Either way, those are figures worthy of Messi and Ronaldo in their prime, but the reality is that neither of those two were scoring at such a rate at such a young age.
Messi scored a mere eight Champions League goals before turning 21 and then taking off, netting nine in Barcelona’s triumphant European campaign in 2008-09. Ronaldo did not score at all in the Champions League until he was 22.
Then again, neither has ever won the World Cup, while Mbappe is already a world champion.
Lewandowski still setting standards
Both Mbappe and Haaland are future Ballon d’Or winners. The former publicly stated that as his aim when he was just 14 and signed his first contract with Monaco.
He was already a target for some of Europe’s biggest clubs even then. Now the speculation surrounds where Mbappe and Haaland could go next. The former is out of contract at the end of next season.
If the last decade has belonged to Messi and Ronaldo, the next decade looks destined to be that of Mbappe and Haaland.
As for the present, there is still Mbappe’s team-mate Neymar, a comparative veteran at 29. And then there is Robert Lewandowski.
The Pole was surely the big loser in the decision by organisers France Football not to award the Ballon d’Or in the pandemic-disrupted 2020.
Lewandowski has scored 85 goals in 76 games for Bayern Munich since the start of last season and has won six trophies in that time, including the Champions League and Club World Cup.
At 32, he is the one setting the standards for now.