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Soccer

Erling Haaland Is Still Growing

Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund battles for possession with Dayot Upamecano, Amadou Haidara, Marcel Sabitzer and Willi Orban of RB Leipzig during the Bundesliga match between RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund at Red Bull Arena on January 09, 2021 in Leipzig, Germany. Sporting stadiums around Germany remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors.
Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Even though he’s only 20 years old, Erling Haaland is no prospect. “Prospect” implies a young player whose talents, usually glimpsed in intermittent flashes, hint at a future that is brighter than the present. Haaland, in contrast, is the real deal right now, a youngster who already possesses the skill and savvy and consistency to perform as one of the game’s best. The fact that he’s already so good, in an era tailor-made for his brand of greatness, and yet is still developing new tricks and abilities, places him in the rarest of zones: a full-fledged star today who looks destined to go supernova tomorrow.

Take the following highlight reel from Borussia Dortmund’s 3–1 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday:

Haaland had a foot in all three Dortmund goals. The team’s first and third goals were prototypical Haaland. On the first, the Norwegian tore—”tear” really is the most accurate description of his running style; it’s the way he flings his arms at his sides when sprinting, looking like he’s grabbing handfuls of air and ripping it behind to propel himself forward faster—down the flank, opening lots of space for Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho to run into, and then clipped in a pass that Reus redirected into Sancho’s path and which Sancho sent past the keeper. On the third, Haaland managed one of his textbook short-burst cuts in behind, patiently prowling the back of Leipzig’s defensive line, waiting for Reus to flip the ball into the open space, tearing at more air to get to Reus’s pass before the keeper, and then calmly stroking it into the goalmouth that his speed and first touch had left unattended. But it was Dortmund’s second goal, and Haaland’s first of the day, where you can see his tantalizing, terrifying growth as a player:

https://twitter.com/Chimuelinho/status/1347982520621686788

The finish itself—a towering header over an overmatched defender—was, like the other two goal-scoring plays, the kind of physically domineering action we’ve come to expect from Haaland. But the run leading up to it, the deft little touches that saw him skip past five defenders all within about a phone booth’s amount of space, was something new.

Haaland has become the outstanding striker he is today primarily by relying on his size, strength, speed, genius for making the killer off-ball run into space, and finishing. His technique and control with the ball at his feet in tight spaces has never been his strong suit; if anything (other than injury) threatened to make him a merely great rather than transcendent player, it would’ve probably been those technical limitations. So to see Haaland dance past five defenders like that, in a fashion that even Lionel Messi would be proud of himself for executing, really takes the roof off his potential ceiling.

Saturday’s match was Haaland’s 16th appearance of the season. In it, he added his 18th and 19th goals of the campaign. His scoring stats continue to grow and so do his skills, and at this point there’s no telling where or even if any of it will stop.