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Football’s Next Great Rivalry

Haaland and Mbappe
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Ronaldo and Messi, the two top scorers in the history of the Champions League have scored 15 goals UCL between them in the last two seasons. Haaland and Mbappe on the other hand have 28 in that same period…Who’s next is a question we’ve asked for a while, and we might have our answer!

The 16th and 17th of February 2021 are going to be remembered as the nights the torch was passed on and when the crown finally changed hands. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have ruled the footballing world for the past decade and a half, scoring innumerable goals, winning 11 Ballon d’Ors and 9 Champions Leagues between them. As we try to savour every last ounce of the twilight of Ronaldo and Messi’s careers, the question we have been asking is who next. Who will pick up the crown once these two vacate the throne? Well after the 16th and 17th of February 2021, I think we might have our definitive answer.

16th February, Barcelona 1 – 4 PSG

There couldn’t have been a more symbolic changing of the guard than Barcelona’s meeting with Paris Saint Germain in the first leg of last 16 of the Champions League. Kylian Mbappe’s first club meeting versus Lionel Messi. The two had met earlier in the World Cup in 2018 where Mbappe scored 2 goals to knock Argentina out of the competition. Now they meet again, Messi’s Barcelona versus Mbappe’s PSG. Messi was influential in the early stages of the game and opened the scoring with a penalty after Frankie De Jong was tripped in the box. However, as soon as PSG and Mbappe clicked into gear, the Argentine became almost anonymous. 


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A post shared by Kylian Mbappé (@k.mbappe)

Mbappe ruled the show from the 30th minute onwards, ripping through the heart of the Barcelona defence to score his second Champions League hat-trick. The game ended 4-1, with Barcelona on the verge of being knocked out before the Quarter Finals for the first time since 2006/07 when Messi was only 19.  

17th February, Porto 2 – 1 Juventus | Sevilla 2 – 3 Borussia Dortmund

24 hours later, Cristiano Ronaldo found himself back in his home country Portugal to face off against Porto. Ronaldo had won 3 Champions League titles in his last 3 years at Real Madrid but had failed to make the semi-finals since moving to Juventus. Unfortunately, just like his age old-rival Messi, Ronaldo too was completely irrelevant throughout the game against Porto and managed just one shot throughout the 90 minutes. Juventus went on to lose the first leg 2-1, with the only solace being an away goal scored by Federico Chiesa in the dying minutes of the game. 

While Ronaldo struggled in Portugal, a young Norwegian striker named Erling Haaland was running riot in Sevilla. Haaland much like Ronaldo is a physical specimen handcrafted by the gods. He has an athletes’ body and a 6’4 frame that helps him reach speeds up to 35km/h during games. Haaland was up against a Sevilla side that had won nine games in a row, but that didn’t stop him. He was as dominant as ever, scoring two goals and providing an assist in a crucial 3-2 away victory for Dortmund.


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A post shared by Erling Braut Haaland (@erling.haaland)

After the game Haaland said that watching Mbappe scoring his hat-trick yesterday gave him free motivation, already sowing the seeds of a potential rivalry that can dominate the world stage for the next decade much like the Ronaldo – Messi debate roused the internet in the previous one.

In terms of numbers, Haaland and Mbappe have already overshadowed Messi and Ronaldo in Europe’s most elite competition. Ronaldo and Messi, the two top scorers in the history of the Champions League have only scored 15 UCL goals between them in the last two seasons. Haaland and Mbappe on the other hand have 28 in that same period. To contextualise Mbappe’s greatness, he already has 24 goals in the UEFA Champions League at 22 years of age. If he scores another hat-trick in the second leg, he will already overtake the likes of Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez and Hernan Crespo on the all-time list.

Haaland’s record in Europe’s most elite competition is even more ridiculous. The Borussia Dortmund striker already has 18 goals in the competition in only 13 appearances. In comparison, the next best record after 13 games in the UCL was Simone Inzaghi with 12. Haaland is scoring goals at an unimaginable rate, and the only player to have more goals than him in the Champions League before their 21st birthday is Mbappe.

There was a defining photo in the Barcelona vs PSG game of Gerard Pique grabbing on to Kylian Mbappe as he broke through on goal. In a way that symbolises what is currently happening in the world of football today. Mbappe and Haaland are ploughing ahead at full speed with the rest of the field struggling to keep up. This was a watershed moment, a glimpse into the next decade of footballing greats. It was a reminder that Mbappe and Haaland are no longer the future of football, they are now the present.