Two tables set the scene for the summer’s most fierce contest in the transfer market.
Erling Braut Haaland tops one: he is the Champions League’s leading scorer, four clear of anyone else, averaging a goal every 52.5 minutes in the world’s top club competition.
Borussia Dortmund are fifth in the other, the Bundesliga standings.
It will be hard enough to keep Haaland with Champions League football, surely impossible without.
The 20-year-old is shaping up as the best goalscorer of the post-Messi and Ronaldo era. Indeed, with 77 goals in 71 club games in the last two seasons, he is already outscoring them. The case for any of the superpowers to sign him can be seen in the numbers.
Odds correct at 18:45 GMT (23/03/21)
Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, Haaland has delivered 50 league goals from 154 shots, a remarkable 32.4 percent conversion rate.
Those 50 goals have come from 81 shots on target, scoring with 62 percent of them.
His record is better still in the Champions League: 20 goals in 14 appearances, from only 43 shots and just 26 on target. Scoring from 76 percent of efforts on target feels unsustainable, but this is Haaland. He can carry on scoring at a ridiculous rate.
If there are separate questions – who can afford him and where he should choose to go – the simpler element should be the question of who wants him: everyone, logically.
Sky Bet have Manchester City priced as 11/8 favourites to sign the Norwegian star, and have an obvious vacancy, with Sergio Aguero probably on his way out and with their specialist strikers having contributed just eight league goals so far.
City’s decision may revolve around whether they deem the most prolific No.9 of the next generation preferable to installing the policy of a false nine as their premier strategy; if they can continue sharing the goals around, if they believe Ilkay Gundogan’s outlier of a campaign is a one-off.
Certainly, Haaland feels the opposite of Gabriel Jesus: the Norwegian has 34 Bundesliga goals from an xG of 22.3, whereas the Brazilian is underperforming his expected goals for a fifth consecutive season in the Premier League; cumulatively, he is 11.7 goals down on where he should be.
Chelsea have the resources and perhaps also the opening, and are 9/2 second favourites to acquire Haaland according to Sky Bet.
Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham average more than 0.50 goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League, but Thomas Tuchel appears convinced by neither; otherwise, only the penalty taker Jorginho is above 0.24 whereas Haaland is at 1.06 in the Bundesliga.
Tuchel has tended to use Timo Werner on the left and has tried Kai Havertz as a false nine but their last two arrivals from the Bundesliga have two goals in his last 28 and one in 26 respectively and, to make matters worse, two of those three goals were against Morecambe. Chelsea’s lack of a finisher has been apparent in their unbeaten start under Tuchel: they have 11 league goals from an xG of 15.2.
That those 11 goals have come from 55 shots on target forms a contrast with Haaland’s elite level finishing.
Manchester United have been more potent, but sporadically. They have failed to score six times against big-six opponents already this season; in contrast, Dortmund had drawn a solitary blank when Haaland has played.
His consistency brings a comparison with a team who can be hit and miss and some players who are not predatory enough. United only have seven league goals from inside the six-yard box this season whereas Haaland has six on his own.
United only have two players who have ever topped 23 goals in a season: Bruno Fernandes, who plays in a different position, and Edinson Cavani, who may leave in the summer.
Bayern Munich arguably have the least need for Haaland as anything other than a piece of succession planning. Robert Lewandowski is both the closest thing to him, with 1.50 goals per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga, scoring from 77 percent of his attempts on target, but also statistically superior.
Yet he is 12 years older; Bayern are on course to win a seventh straight Bundesliga title with the Pole in the team and getting Haaland could cement their domestic domination for the next decade.
Paris Saint-Germain may feel they have two-thirds of the most feared forward line around: either Mauro Icardi or Moise Kean might not tick the box for a superstar in the way Kylian Mbappe and Neymar do; with the Frenchman, who averages 0.97 goals per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, and the Brazilian, whose career average is one every 103 minutes, and Haaland, they would in effect have a guarantee of three goals a game.
Two of those with the greatest requirement for Haaland may have the lowest budgets. He could prove unaffordable to Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Yet whereas elite clubs tend to have the type of finishers that mean they overperform their expected goals, Real have underperformed their xG every season since Cristiano Ronaldo left.
They scored at least 94 league goals in each of the Portuguese’s nine seasons in Spain and have not topped 70 since. The 33-year-old Karim Benzema is the only player with more than five league goals; last year, only he and defender Sergio Ramos got six or more.
At the Nou Camp, Lionel Messi completes the contingent of ageing attackers; like many others, his contract expires in the summer.
Haaland would not replicate the Argentinian’s creativity and he scores different types of goals – his average shot is from 14.0 yards to Messi’s 19.0 – but one of Barcelona’s many issues is that they have become more reliant on their captain’s goals: this is set to be the first season since 2012-13 when no other Barca player gets at least 16 in La Liga, and only Antoine Griezmann (eight) has more than four.
It would create the ideal conditions for an auction whereby every participant carried on raising their bid to fill a void in their attack but for the financial crunch that means some cannot find the funds.
But Haaland’s eventual transfer fee will not contain the only big numbers surrounding his career: most of them are products of his goalscoring.
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