Champions League: Porto v Juventus and Sevilla v Dortmund
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It’s far from a secret that Borussia Dortmund duo Erling Braut Haaland and Jadon Sancho are on the radar of Manchester United’s recruitment team. So they should be. But Wednesday night’s Champions League win over Sevilla perhaps showed they shouldn’t just be on the shortlist – they should be at the very top of it.
Haaland and Sancho are two generational talents. It is incredible to think the pair are both still just 20 years old.
Norwegian phenomenon Haaland now has 18 Champions League goals (and two assists) in just 13 appearances in Europe’s premier competition.
Only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals than him in the Champions League since the start of last season, with the Pole on 18.
Haaland now has more Champions League goals than players like Zinedine Zidane, the Brazilian Ronaldo, David Villa, Francesco Totti, David Beckham, Carlos Tevez and Falcao.
He doesn’t even turn 21 until July. His output at his age is staggering, and in Spain on Wednesday evening, he provided a reminder that he plans to rival 22-year-old Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe to the throne Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will leave vacant at some point in the next five years.
“It was good to score goals, I love the Champions League. And when I saw Mbappe scored a hat-trick yesterday, I got free motivation. So, thanks to him. It was a nice evening,” he said afterwards.
The Norway international has 41 goals and nine assists in 42 outings for Dortmund since joining from Red Bull Salzburg 13 months ago, having managed 29 goals and seven assists in 27 games for the Austrian champions before that.
He is just 10 goals shy of 100 at club level, and he’s got a minimum of 16 matches more this season – 18 if Dortmund make the Champions League quarter-finals – to reach that landmark.
His team-mate Sancho was just as pivotal in Seville, having now shaken off his rough form at the beginning of the campaign – the incessant summer speculation over a potential move to United at least a small factor in his slow start – as he begins to get back to his best.
After 20 goals and 20 assists in 44 games last season, the versatile forward – capable of playing on the right flank, left flank or as a No 10 – now has nine goals and 14 assists in 28 games this term. Not bad considering he’s not been in full flow all season.
In 2021, he has five goals and five assists in 10 games, despite Dortmund having only won one of their past six Bundesliga games to trail leaders Bayern by 16 points.
The pair – who cost Dortmund just £25m combined to sign from Manchester City and Salzburg respectively – linked up beautifully throughout their first-leg tie against Sevilla.
Haaland’s first goal was the ninth time they have combined for a goal for Dortmund, with Marco Reus the only player Sancho has linked up with more effectively (19 goals, although having played more than double as many matches together as Haaland and Sancho).
In Sancho as a right-sided forward and Haaland as the No 9 that Edinson Cavani has been but arguably even more polished despite being much younger, United have a duo that could win them major honour after major honour.
Add in Marcus Rashford on the left-hand side and Bruno Fernandes as the No 10 with other players such as Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, Donny van de Beek, Daniel James and Amad in support and that is a frightening attacking complement.
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Granted, they would not come cheap. To get the pair in the summer of 2021 for £200m would probably be good business for United, so highly rated are the two forwards. £250m would be more realistic.
And United also of course need to strengthen their defence, with Sevilla’s Kounde is said to be United’s ideal addition after they turned away from Bayern-bound Dayot Upamecano.
He struggled here against Dortmund, as many defenders do against a phenomenal and complete talent like Haaland, and that should not detract from his long-term potential.
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Young players have bad games. It is not to say that Kounde cannot still be one of the best defenders on the continent over the coming years.
He is already well up there, and it’s no surprise Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola had Kounde on his wishlist before recruiting Ruben Dias from Benfica. There is an abundance of promise in the Frenchman.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Kounde could be a fine partner to Harry Maguire as early as next year – but there are also reasonable question marks over him coming to the Premier League. The fact he’s 5ft 10ins is one major concern, for example.
But in Haaland and Sancho, United have two players who have proven before the age of 21 that they can lead the charge for major trophies.
Dortmund may no longer be in contention for the Bundesliga title this term but that is more down to the team’s defensive struggles – only eighth-placed Freiburg and 10th-placed Stuttgart conceding more than their 31 goals in 21 games – than it is anything to do with the two attackers.
Dortmund are still a real threat in the Champions League and Haaland and Sancho will be absolutely pivotal if the German giants are to win a first European Cup since 1996 or if they are to come close.
Similarly, at Old Trafford, United boss Solskjaer has already conceded that Manchester City are uncatchable. At the same time Dortmund beat Sevilla, City won away at Everton to go 10 points clear after 24 games.
Guardiola’s side, who have won all of their last 17 matches across all competitions, already have one hand on the title and United by contrast turn their attentions to making sure of a top-four finish, ideally in second, and silverware either in the form of the FA Cup or the Europa League.
But with Haaland and Sancho in attack, alongside Rashford and Fernandes, United would have a front-line capable of inspiring far loftier ambitions next term.
Fernandes would be the oldest of the quartet at just 26 and Sancho would help ease the creative burden on the Portuguese, while Haaland would add the consistent goals that Martial does not provide. He offers the kind of presence that Cavani does, with Solskjaer’s side far more dangerous with the Uruguayan leading the line.
It would not be the only business United need to do and a top centre-half would further make the Red Devils a major, major threat to City in 2021-22, as well as a contender in Europe.
But bringing in Haaland and Sancho would be a serious statement and would provide the platform for a new-look attack that can win league titles, Champions Leagues and domestic cups for years to come. The instant buzz their signings would create within the club’s fanbase would also be felt in the dressing room.
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