Haaland continues to astonish for Man City
It was the 35th minute of the match and you had to concentrate to see it. Erling Haaland laid the ball off and turned. There were no cheers but that was it – his second pass of the night. Incredibly, this scoring phenomenon already had his second goal of the night by then.
It is a complete subversion of Pep Guardiola’s philosophy. A coach who has built his success on a passing game now boasts the world’s most formidable forward and yet he hardly passes the ball at all. He hardly touches it at all. Eleven touches against Copenhagen. Four of them shots.
Domestically, we are already reaching beyond the Premier League for comparisons. Alan Shearer and Andy Cole’s record of 34 goals in a single season looks so certain to go that it is Dixie Dean’s tally of 60 league goals almost a century ago that is the total to beat now.
Beyond our shores, Lionel Messi’s 73-goal season in all competitions for Barcelona is a marker of note. Such targets can no longer be seen as fanciful. Haaland did not expend much energy against Copenhagen. Guardiola might decide to reassess the need to rest him.
He had talked of rotation but Haaland has started every one of City’s 12 games so far and the postponed midweek fixture against Arsenal later this month lightens the load a little. If stayed in Copenhagen, he can focus on the Premier League for much of October.
With Norway not at the World Cup, Haaland’s recovery period can come then. How many more defenses will have been on the receiving end by that stage? This does not feel like a hot streak, just the inevitable result of ice-cold finishing and a talent for the ages.
Loftus-Cheek shines as Chelsea midfield shows life without Kante
Eyebrows may have been raised when Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s name appeared on the Chelsea teamsheet as one of the two central midfielders as Graham Potter reverted to a 3-4-3 formation.
Conor Gallagher remained on the bench despite stealing the show on Saturday with a brilliant winner at Crystal Palace, as did Jorginho – who picked up a knock at the weekend – and summer signing Denis Zakaria.
Playing alongside Mateo Kovacic, Loftus-Cheek was handed the not insignificant task of filling in for the injured N’Golo Kante. The fact that Chelsea had failed to keep a clean sheet since the Frenchman picked up his hamstring problem nearly two months ago shows how tough a job that is.
But, in a performance that may have caught the attention of Gareth Southgate as he ponders his midfield contingent for the World Cup, Loftus-Cheek shone as Chelsea produced their best performance of an inconsistent season.
The 26-year-old – who was a member of Southgate’s squad in Russia four years ago – used his muscular frame to assert physical dominance over Milan’s midfield and ended the match with more duels won (10) than any player on the field.
Loftus-Cheek also won possession for his side on nine occasions – a figure only Reece James could better among either side.
The Chelsea academy graduate spent the final months of Thomas Tuchel’s reign filling a variety of roles, including wing-back and right-wing, but showed the heart of midfield remains his strongest position and, in doing so, repaid the faith shown in him by his new head coach.
Tomori’s difficult homecoming
Chelsea’s decision to allow Fikayo Tomori to join AC Milan has looked foolish at times over the last year but the former academy graduate did not enjoy a happy homecoming on Wednesday night.
The 24-year-old, a key figure in Milan’s Serie A title triumph last season following a successful loan spell at the San Siro in the previous campaign, was unable to deliver a performance befitting of one of the best young centre-backs in Italy .
Instead, he looked awkward up against his former side’s fluid attack, most notably for their second goal, when his failure to cut out Reece James’ right-wing cross allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to stab a first-time finish into the net.
It was not his only poor moment. There was also a loose pass in his own half before the break which allowed Mason Mount to put Raheem Sterling through on goal. The error might have been costly had centre-back partner Pierre Kalulu not raced back to make the tackle.
Tomori has credit in the bank for all that he has achieved in Italy, but the return to Stamford Bridge was an opportunity to show his former side they were wrong to sell him – and show Gareth Southgate he deserves a place in the England squad for Qatar .
This sub-par performance will not define him, of course, but he will return to Milan feeling he has achieved neither of those aims. Southgate did not use Tomori against Italy and left him out of the squad to face Germany during the recent international break. If his position looked at risk already, he looks even more precarious now.
Celtic rue missed chances once again
Celtic once again showed some signs they can compete at Champions League level, but once again it seemed their inexperience at Europe’s top level cost them.
They impressed early against Real Madrid in their opening group match, but fell to defeat after wasting early chances then had to settle for a draw with Shakhtar Donetsk after again failing to capitalize on their spells of dominance.
They went into the game without their first-choice centre-backs and lost captain Callum McGregor before the break, but they pressed Leipzig at times and took advantage of some of their slack passing.
Jota’s equalizer was well worked, but after that they seemed to fall out of the game a little.
Stephen Welsh made his Champions League debut as he started in place of injured Carl Starfelt, in fact only a few have played Champions League football before this season, and it is a steep learning curve.
Ange Postecoglou said it is difficult to teach players that they belong at this level, but it is something they will need to embrace if they are to have a hope of securing European football after Christmas.
The quality of the opposition cannot be forgotten either.
It is a quick turnaround with the return in Glasgow next Tuesday – Celtic need a victory to hold onto the hope of securing second in Group F.