Borussia Dortmund versus Barcelona didn’t live up to the hype. Neither did Napoli versus Liverpool. It’s over to Salzburg instead, where a 19-year-old man-mountain distinguished himself with a first-half hat-trick that made him a lock for Carolina Herrera hero of the day.
Erling Braut Haaland, remember the name. The Norway prodigy singed the fingers of transfer rumour writers across the globe in the space of 45 minutes, as he became the first teenager since Wayne Rooney to score more than one goal on his Champions League debut in Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 obliteration of Genk.
Big things were expected in Austria – and by us – of a player who had already scored a quite incredible 14 goals from eight games this season. It only took him two minutes to justify every word.
Haaland, the son of former Premier League stalwart Alf-Inge, has unfathomable acceleration for someone who measures in at 6ft5in, and used it for his first before powering a low shot past the keeper.
He was given the freedom of Salzburg for his second but it still needed another cool finish, and a tap-in rounded off a dream first-half’s work.
AGE – 19
SHOTS – 3
GOALS – 3
MINUTES – 72
Ruthlessness – Haaland’s frame wouldn’t be out of place in the NBA and he hit the jackpot with his genes thanks to his natural pace, too. But this was a night on which, in his first taste of European competition, his preternatural coolness prevailed.
Belgian champions Genk are no great shakes, of course. That’s besides the point. His composure in front of goal speaks of great mental strength and if Group E opponents Liverpool and Napoli weren’t already on high alert, they are now.
Ultimately, Haaland’s end product will unlikely be enough to fire Salzburg into the knockouts given their clear frailty at the back, but he will surely be in the Champions League next year one way or another.
No matter the age, No9s with such physical and mental traits are extremely rare commodities. Let the bidding wars begin.
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Head coach Thomas Tuchel feels Paris Saint-Germain can use their opening Champions League fixture against Real Madrid to deliver a big team performance.
The two European heavyweights meet at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night looking to lay down a marker in Group A.
Both sides, though, have been hit by their own selection worries, as PSG are without Brazil forward Neymar although he has seen his Champions League suspension reduced to two matches.
Despite the weight of expectation for an improvement on last season’s defeat to Manchester United in the last 16, German coach Tuchel is determined to take things one fixture at a time.
“Last year, we fell into a very strong group (with Liverpool and Napoli). It was a lot of pressure,” Tuchel said at a press conference.
“There is a lot to learn from a defeat. It was a very long phase after the defeat against Manchester United, but it is necessary to forget and look forward.
“The team have done that. We have a lot of changes, new players. But this is the first game, not a decisive match in the group.
“At the same time, it is a great opportunity to show you are capable of making a big team performance.
“Real Madrid are very strong, brave, they have won many times in the Champions League. I want to be aggressive, play fast.
“It’s our character to be active. I do not want to be too passive, we must take the ball to find solutions.”
Tuchel, though, insists there is no extra pressure being put on him by the club’s owners to make more inroads towards European glory this season.
“We never discussed with the president about that. My goal is to win tomorrow, that is clear. Then it is match after match,” he said.
Neymar’s punishment for social media comments made in the wake of PSG’s controversial 3-1 home defeat by Manchester United in March was reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The former Barcelona forward was heavily linked with a summer move back to Spain, and was jeered by PSG supporters on his return to the team for Saturday’s 1-0 win over Strasbourg – which he secured with a stoppage-time overhead kick.
Tuchel wants to draw a line under the whole saga.
“Between me and Ney, everything is clear. The transfer market is finished, he is our player. It has never been a problem between me and my player,” the PSG coach said.
Real Madrid shrugged off their own injury concerns – Croatia midfielder Luka Modric the latest absentee – with a 3-2 home win over Levante.
Head coach Zinedine Zidane is ready to take Wednesday’s match to the Ligue 1 leaders.
“We are happy to start another competition. We know that it is a complicated opponent, what we have to do, but we are ready for that,” said Zidane, who revealed Eden
Hazard could be involved after playing the last half-hour on Saturday.
“We are making a good start to the season, but of course it can be done better and we must improve at all levels.”
Karim Benzema scored twice against Levante, and Zidane believes the veteran France forward can again be a key player.
“He is scoring more, it is very decisive, but also he is a team player and I am more interested in that,” the Real Madrid coach said at a press conference.
“Maybe he will have a little more motivation because he is from Lyon, but I always love Benzema on my team.”
Copy provided by Press Association Sport
The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest for Champions League glory.
Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to make an early impact, there’s reason to be thrilled about the start of this season’s tournament.
We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group A …
Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
Although the Parisians have failed to qualify for the quarter-finals since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the club in the 2015/16 season, they have never had problems making it to the knockouts of the competition.
Should PSG make it out of the group, they will do so for the eighth time in a row. Thomas Tuchel has one of the best attacks in Europe with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Edinson Cavani at his disposal.
However, only Icardi will be available for what could be a decisive encounter against Madrid on match-day one. Mbappe and Cavani have been sidelined due to injury and Neymar will be serving a suspension for his comments on social media during the last edition.
The French side will find Madrid to be their biggest obstacle. A win over the 13-time European champions, their first against the opposition since 1994 should headline them as potential contenders at the end of the group stage games.
Key player: Neymar
Real Madrid (Spain)
Madrid have experienced a fall from grace ever since they won the in the 2017/18 season.
The Zinedine Zidane oversaw a historic ‘threepeat’ of Champions League titles before he announced his decision to leave the club. Madrid reappointed him as manager earlier this year after Santiago Solari’s side were knocked out by a young Ajax side in the last-16 stage.
Not much has changed on the field since then despite Madrid’s heavy investment in the transfer market.
Los Blancos boast a fiery attack with Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale leading the line and Vinicius Junior, Luka Jovic and Lucas Vasquez providing further options. This depth in quality in attack should carry them through the group comfortably.
However, failure to land any of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen or Donny van de Beek could leave them short in an ageing midfield.
A 3-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow at the Santiago Bernabeu last season should work as a reminder for Madrid that no team can be taken lightly in this competition. Should they give Galatasaray as much as an inch, the Turkish side could take a mile and cause an unlikely upset.
Key player: Eden Hazard
Manager: Fatih Terim
Arguably the best side of Turkey for some time now, Galatasaray have shown no signs of replicating their domestic success in Europe. The 22-time Super Lig winners haven’t qualified for the knockout stages of the tournament since the 2012/13 season.
Last season, Galatasaray finished below Porto and Schalke in the group stage and qualified for the last-32 of the Europa League. But a 1-2 home defeat to Benfica sent them out of Europe much earlier than they would have expected.
The Turkish side made some key additions to their team in Jean Michael Seri, Emre Mor, Ryan Babel and Radamel Falcao as they attempt to make a statement in Europe. That the finals will be held in their home stadium in Istanbul should serve as added motivation for The Lions.
Given Real Madrid’s poor start to the season, Galatasaray will lurk behind to capitalise on any slip-up from the Spanish giants. A third-place finish and qualification to the Europa League knockout stage should be the minimum expectation, though.
Key player: Radamel Falcao.
Club Brugge (Belgium)
Manager: Philippe Clement
Club Brugge are the underdogs of the group. They qualified by defeating Dynamo Kyiv 4-3 on aggregate in the third round and LASK Linz 3-1 on aggregate in the play-offs after finishing second in the Belgian first division.
Brugge have never been European champions but came tantalisingly close in 1978. Among recent European achievements, the Belgian side reached the quarter-final of the 2014/15 Europa League before going down against Ukranian club Dnipro.
Philippe Clement’s men are undoubtedly the minnows and a berth in the Europa League that accompanies a third place finish will be a good result.
Key player: Hans Vanaken
2. Real Madrid
4. Club Brugge