MANCHESTER, England — Erling Haaland only played for 45 minutes against Leicester City on Saturday but it was still more than enough time for the Manchester City striker to equal another record.
Starting the game on 30 Premier League goals, he was on 32 by the time 25 minutes had elapsed at the Etihad Stadium, his first goal a penalty and the second a delicate clipped finish over Daniel Iversen in the Leicester goal. It was that one that tied Mohamed Salah‘s record for most goals in a 38-game Premier League season, set in 2018.
Only Andy Cole and Alan Shearer have scored more goals in a single season (34), and they had 42 games to do it. Manchester City still have eight league games left this season, while progress in the Champions League and FA Cup would lift that number to 14.
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It raises the possibility that Haaland could eclipse the greatest goal-scoring season in English football history.
No one will ever touch Dixie Dean’s 60 league goals for Everton in 1927-28 but Haaland could, in theory, better his 63 goals in all competitions. He has got 47 goals in 40 games at a rate of 1.18 goals per game, and if it was to continue for another 14 games, he would end the season on 64.
It’s unlikely, but then Haaland shouldn’t have been able to decimate the Premier League in his first season in England at the age of just 22. When it comes to the Norway striker, you just never know.
“I want him to break all the records,” Man City manager Pep Guardiola said afterward. “That means he scores a lot of goals and that helps, but I think what he wants is to win the title and be there. We still have to play eight games and he is close to playing all of them. We have to take care of him because his injuries are long so after 45 minutes it was good for him to rest.”
Guardiola doesn’t usually care much for records or statistics, only silverware.
Haaland has scored six hat tricks this season, but has also been substituted after scoring twice on another six occasions. It’s seven if you count Guardiola’s decision to replace him on 63 minutes after scoring five against RB Leipzig to equal the record for a single Champions League game.
Speaking at his weekly news conference Friday, Guardiola said club staff were monitoring Haaland “24 hours a day” to make sure he stays fit for a run-in that could yet end with three trophies, and made no apologies for wanting to give him as much rest as possible. If that means he only gets to play for the first half against Leicester, then so be it.
The point is that Guardiola doesn’t want the 2022-23 campaign to be remembered for Haaland’s goals; he wants it to be known as City’s treble year.
Winning the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup would match a feat only achieved once before, by Manchester United in 1999. Nearly 25 years on, United fans still just say “99” as shorthand for the greatest season of their lives, and maybe in another quarter of a decade, City fans will still talk enthusiastically about “23.”
Guardiola doesn’t want to talk about it, but after beating Leicester 3-1 to move three points behind Arsenal — who visit the Etihad on April 26 — the title race is in their hands.
On Tuesday, they brushed aside one of the favourites for the Champions League, Bayern Munich, 3-0. Next weekend, they have an FA Cup semifinal against Championship side Sheffield United. There have been setbacks this season, but City are a team in form at the right time with victory over Leicester their 10th in a row in all competitions. You know things are going well when John Stones scores a left-footed volley from 20 yards.
Erling Haaland has tied Mo Salah’s 38-match record for goals in a Premier League season!
📺: @NBC & @Peacock | #MCILEI pic.twitter.com/uzKCXZMSJC
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 15, 2023
Whether Guardiola wants to admit it, the treble is on.
“We have to win, win and win,” added Guardiola. “[Arsenal] have done an incredible run and I don’t think they are going to drop many points, so it is important to be in there and arrive in a final in the next Premier League game against them.
“it was a really good game after the Champions League as well, against a team that is fighting in a difficult position for them. [We got the] three points and onto the next one.”
In the past, Guardiola has said winning the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season is “impossible,” and no one thought there would ever be a striker to get close to the numbers achieved by Dean nearly 100 years ago.
It might be that Haaland doesn’t get near 63 goals, and City could still end the season with nothing, but for now at least, anything seems possible.