EPL

Ronaldo and Messi? Haaland is on that level, says Guardiola

By Sports Desk April 08, 2023

Pep Guardiola believes Erling Haaland is a match for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as a pure goalscorer after the striker netted his 44th goal of the season on Saturday.

Haaland scored twice as Manchester City won 4-1 away at Southampton to move them within five points of Premier League leaders Arsenal, who play Liverpool later in the weekend.

The striker's second, a brilliant acrobatic volley, took him to 44 goals in all competitions in his first season in England, now tied for the most ever by a Premier League player in a single campaign alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy (2002-03) and Mohamed Salah (2017-18).

Of those goals, 30 have come in the league, and Guardiola was full of praise for Haaland after the win, comparing his prolific talisman to two of football's greats.

"The second goal was amazing," Guardiola told BBC's Match of the Day. "It is not easy to pick the ball up in the sky and put it on the grass.

"His talent is really good. We need him. The first half was not our best level, but he changed the game.

"As a top scorer, we lived two incredible decades with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but he is on that level. He scores a lot of goals."

Southampton, the Premier League's bottom side, largely kept City at bay in the first half until a crashing header from Haaland put the reigning champions ahead in the 45th minute.

Guardiola acknowledged Saints' stubborn display in the opening period, saying: "I give a lot of credit to Southampton. Their game plan was really, really good.

"Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition when you're not at your level. We were fortunate to be ahead at half-time.

"We had more physicality in the second half. We found the second goal after we won a duel, and after it was easy."

City's win puts the pressure back on an Arsenal side heading to an unhappy hunting ground in Anfield, having not picked up three points there since the 2012-13 campaign, when now-manager Mikel Arteta was starting in midfield for the Gunners.

Guardiola would prefer to be in their place, though, in terms of the Premier League title race, saying: "I would like to be in the position Arsenal are in. I would love that. It is what it is."

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  • The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day The Numbers Game: Georgia looking to cause an upset on Ronaldo's big day

    Georgia know that knockout football is still within their reach as they prepare for their toughest test so far at Euro 2024 against Portugal.

    Roberto Martinez's side secured top spot in Group F with a game to spare after following up a 2-1 win against Czechia with a commanding 3-0 victory over Turkiye.

    Meanwhile, Georgia missed the chance to claim a maiden victory at a major tournament as they drew 1-1 with Czechia, but they did set themselves up with a chance of getting out of the group.

    Here, we use Opta data to preview Wednesday's clash.

    What's expected?

    After their strong start to Euro 2024, Portugal are the favourites to make it three wins from three games, with the Opta supercomputer giving them a 75.8% chance of getting the job done.

    While Georgia's spirited performances have earned them the plaudits, they are predicted just a 10.4% likelihood of an upset, and a 13.9% chance of taking a point.

    This will be just the second-ever meeting between the nations, with Portugal coming out on top with a 2-0 friendly win in May 2008.

    The Selecao look set to repeat that result, after putting a recent European Championships hoodoo behind them. Having won both of their group-stage games so far, Portugal have now won more than they had across the 2016 and 2020 editions combined (W1 D4 L1).

    However, only once before have Portugal won all three of their group games in the competition (2000).

    As for Georgia, they are chasing what would be a historic first major tournament win, having drawn and lost their opening two matches. Only Greece have got their first such victory against Portugal, beating them en route to lifting the trophy at Euro 2004.

    Georgia have proven tough to beat in the last year - since losing three in a row between June and September 2023, they have only lost two of their last nine games (W4 D3).

    Georgia aiming for a big finish

    Making their major tournament bow at Euro 2024, Georgia have caught the eye with their high-intensity approach to games, pushing both Turkiye and Czechia all the way in their first two fixtures.

    Georges Mikautadze etched his name into Georgia's history books after scoring their first goal at the Euros, before becoming the sixth player to net both of his nation's first two goals at the tournament, and the first since Andriy Shevchenko in 2012 for Ukraine.

    After a free-flowing attacking performance in their 3-1 defeat to Turkiye, which saw Georgia have 14 shots and hit the woodwork twice, they failed to recapture that same spark against Czechia.

    They did earn their first point, though, agonisingly missing out on that first victory as Saba Lobjanidze squandered a golden chance with the last kick of the game.

    Across the first two matchdays of Euro 2024, Georgia faced more shots (49), more shots on target (20) and had a higher expected goals against (xGA) figure (6.1) than any other side.

    Then again, Giorgi Mamardashvili made more saves (16) – 11 of which came against Czechia – and had a higher expected goals on target (xGoT) prevented figure (+3.05) than any other goalkeeper in the first two matchdays, conceding just four goals (excluding own goals) despite facing an xGoT of 7.05.

    It will be a much sterner test for the Valencia goalkeeper against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, but if he can maintain that level, he will give Georgia a chance.

    Ronaldo set to make more Euros history

    Playing at a record sixth Euros at 39 years old, Ronaldo had seen his place in the squad debated in the build-up to the tournament.

    He has started both matches in the competition so far though, and should he retain his place against Georgia, he will become the first European player in history to make 50 major tournament appearances (28 of those will have come at the Euros, while he has played 22 times at the World Cup).

    Questions continued to circulate after a frustrating outing for Ronaldo in their 2-1 victory against Czechia on MD1, as he failed to score from five shots worth 0.73 xG, including missing one big chance, as defined by Opta.

    However, he silenced some of those with another slice of history in their dominant win over Turkiye on Saturday, teeing up Fernandes to get his seventh assist at the European Championships - the most on record of any player in the competition's history.

    Despite being the tournament's all-time top scorer, Ronaldo is yet to hit the net so far, though the Selecao are the second-highest scorers at Euro 2024 with five goals. 

    Portugal have benefitted from an own goal in both of their games – only Spain in the 2020 edition have benefitted more at a single Euros (three), while no team has ever done so in three consecutive games at the finals before.

    Martinez will not be too worried about that though, after two commanding performances, as they look to stay perfect heading into the last 16.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Georgia – Georges Mikautadze

    Mikautadze, as things stand, is the joint-top scorer at Euro 2024, with two goals.

    With the chance to continue their run into the last 16, another goal from him could be the key to setting Georgia on their way.

    If he does score on Wednesday, he would be just the third player in history to net each of his side's first three goals in the competition, after Gerd Muller (Germany) and Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria). Not bad company to be keeping.

    Portugal – Bruno Fernandes

    The pre-match headlines are likely to be firmly focused on Ronaldo.

    But on the pitch, it could be Fernandes who sets the tone for Portugal, having been directly involved in 28 goals in his last 23 appearances for the national side in all competitions, scoring 15 and assisting 13.

    His strike against Turkiye was his first goal at the European Championships (in his sixth appearance), the second major tournament match he has scored in for Portugal, after his brace against Uruguay at the 2022 World Cup.

  • Chile v Argentina: Messi ready to build on important win against competitive La Roja Chile v Argentina: Messi ready to build on important win against competitive La Roja

    Lionel Messi expects a difficult test against Chile as Argentina look to maintain their unbeaten start at the 2024 Copa America. 

    Argentina play their penultimate Group A match at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Wednesday against La Roja, having beaten Canada on matchday 1. 

    The Albiceleste impressed in their opener against the Canucks, registering 19 shots on goal, surpassing the combined total of 18 shots taken by Chile and Peru in the other Group A meeting.

    Messi, who broke the Copa America appearance record during that match, expressed the importance of their victory in the opening game but knows his side are in for a competitive encounter with Ricardo Gareca's side. 

    “Yeah, we've always known how tough the opening game is. The most important thing is to get off to a winning start," Messi said. 

    “It's not happened previously under [Lionel] Scaloni, so that calms things down because you suffer a lot when you start off losing.

    “But we always play the same way. We're in a difficult group, and now we have to face a very good and competitive team.

    “Ricardo Gareca's arrival has given them something else as well.

    “So yeah, we're happy to have started with a win, but we're now going to rest and prepare for Chile.

    “We know that we have to be a team and achieve our goals in the right way.

    “We know that the only path to do so is in our own way. So we will continue with the same humility and desire to win.”

    Meanwhile, Chile will be hopeful of improving their recent record against Argentina, having failed to beat their opponents since the Copa America final in June 2016, though they needed penalties to get the victory on that occasion.

    La Roja kickstarted their Copa America campaign with a goalless draw against Peru at the AT&T Stadium in Texas, managing to register just one shot on target from the 11 they attempted - the joint-fewest the Blanquirroja have faced in the competition since the debut of goalkeeper Pedro Gallese in the competition (2015).

    Gareca's side have failed to score in their last three games in the Copa America, a run of 378 minutes without a goal.

    However, the 66-year-old believes their lack of threat in front of goal is not an issue ahead of their showdown with the Albiceleste. 

    "We were not able to create many plays and execute them. We were under a lot of pressure, and sometimes we were not accurate in our passes," said Gareca, who became the 10th coach to have managed different teams in consecutive editions of the competition.

    "I'm not concerned. I think this will be useful for us to analyse our game to improve our game.

    "We, of course, hoped to win the match. But I think it's very important that we're able to take a point, and we still have two matches ahead of us."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Chile - Victor Davila

    Victor Davila will be hoping to rediscover the goal-scoring touch he experienced before the Copa America ahead of coming up against the World Cup champions. 

    Having scored three goals and provided one assist in his previous three international appearances heading into their opener against Peru, the CSKA Moscow striker showed glimpses of his attacking threat. 

    The 26-year-old has the joint-most shots (three) and the most touches in the opposition box (five), but failed to register a shot on target, coming off in the 65th minute with an expected goals (xG) total of 0.22. 

    Argentina - Lionel Messi 

    Messi has played in 35 out of 36 matches for Argentina in the Copa America since his debut. The only match he missed was a 2-1 group stage victory against Tuesday's opponents in 2016.

    The Inter Miami star registered an assist for Lautaro Martinez's late goal, reaching 50 direct goal involvements in official competitions for club and country on U.S. soil (30 goals and 20 assists).

    However, Messi will be hoping to add to his 108 international goals at the MetLife Stadium. Should he score, it would take his Copa America tally to 14, level with Chile's Eduardo Vargas and Peru's Paolo Guerrero, three away from equalling Norberto Mendez's record (17). 

     

    MATCH PREDICTION: ARGENTINA WIN 

    The Opta supercomputer is heavily backing Argentina to maintain their unbeaten start at the 2024 Copa America. They won 66.5% of the pre-match simulations, while Chile won just 15.1%. 

    Argentina come up against a familiar foe in Chile at the tournament, with this their 30th meeting at the Copa America. La Roja are the third-most frequent opponent for Lionel Scaloni's side, behind only Brazil (34) and Uruguay (32).

    La Albiceleste remain unbeaten against Chile in these encounters (21 wins, eight draws). However, La Roja clinched their two titles by defeating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the 2015 and 2016 finals.

    Since 2011, Argentina have the fewest losses (two) among teams that have played in more than one Copa America edition. La Albiceleste also boasts the most victories in the tournament during this period (18).

    Chile, however, will be looking to upset the odds. La Roja are looking for their first win in games between the two teams since June 2016. During that time, Argentina have outscored the Chilean side 7-4, something that will need to change to increase their chances of progression. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Chile - 15.1%

    Argentina - 66.5%

    Draw - 18.4%

  • Sylvinho: Anything possible for 'brave' Albania Sylvinho: Anything possible for 'brave' Albania

    Sylvinho says his side are "dreaming" of knockout football in Euro 2024, with everything still to play for in their final group game against Spain on Monday.

    Albania have impressed during their previous two games in the so-called 'group of death', having scored early goals to trouble both Italy and Croatia, including netting the quickest goal ever scored at the tournament against the former after just 23 seconds.

    Though they went on to lose that match 2-1, the Eagles salvaged a point deep in stoppage time to draw 2-2 with Croatia to give themselves a chance of making the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.

    Sylvinho's side are aiming to pull off a shock win when they face Spain, who have already qualified as Group B winners, but the Brazilian believes it is possible.

    "Many people five months ago thought that Albania would concede three or four goals and four or five in the next one, and the last match might not even mean anything," Sylvinho said.

    "We are all really pleased to be in the Group of Death with something to play for. We're going to go for it.

    "We've done everything to get here, we'll try to do something else. We're dreaming and we know it's possible. In 90 minutes, anything can happen."

    Italy face Croatia in the other group game, with both sides still in danger of an early exit. If Albania and Croatia both win, it becomes a little harder to separate the two sides in the table.

    With so many permutations surrounding the final fixture in the group, fans from all three nations will be eagerly checking in on the other result to see how their team will be affected.

    However, Sylvinho said he will not be paying any attention, instead choosing to focus on what Albania can control.

    "When you play a game, you try to win it. Even if you're inferior and you're playing a wonderful team, it doesn't matter," he said.

    "If we want to get through, we need to beat Spain. It won't be easy. We'll give it a go. We have brave players here who are really ambitious and we're really excited."

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