Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said Erling Haaland is at the standard of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when it comes to finding the net after scoring twice on his return from injury in a 4-1 win at Southampton on Saturday.
Victory took City to within five points of Arsenal at the top of the Premier League.
Haaland has now scored 44 times in his debut season with the English champions, including 30 in 27 Premier League appearances.
The Norwegian’s second goal was special as the giant striker acrobatically volleyed home Jack Grealish’s cross with an overhead kick.
“The second goal was amazing. It is not easy to pick the ball up in the sky and put it on the grass,” said Guardiola, who coached Messi during four years as Barcelona coach.
“We need him. The first half was not our best level but he changed the game.
“As a top scorer we lived two incredible decades with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi but he is on that level. He scores a lot of goals. I am very happy with 65 minutes after injury and he helped us again.”
Guardiola was true to his word that he was not thinking about Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final, first leg against Bayern Munich as Haaland’s return from a groin injury was the only change from the side that thrashed Liverpool 4-1 last weekend.
But the visitors failed to hit the same heights for the first 45 minutes and could have been punished against a side with more firepower than the Saints.
Southampton remain rooted to the foot of the table and four points adrift of safety.
Haaland opened the floodgates just before half-time when he stooped to meet Kevin De Bruyne’s cross.
City went through the gears after the break as an eighth consecutive win in all competitions kept Guardiola’s men in the hunt for a treble of trophies.
Grealish is enjoying his best form since a £100 million ($124 million) move from Aston Villa in 2021 made him the Premier League’s most expensive ever player at the time.
He fired in at the second attempt after his first effort was saved by Gavin Bazunu.
Grealish turned creator for the third as his cross was finished in spectacular fashion by Haaland.
“You will never see me do that,” said De Bruyne of Haaland’s second goal. “You would get me to Southampton hospital if I do that!”
That was the striker’s final touch as he then made way for Julian Alvarez for the final 20 minutes with one eye on Bayern’s visit in midweek.
Sekou Mara briefly gave the home support something to cheer when he steered home Moussa Djenepo’s cross.
But City restored their three-goal cushion just three minutes later when De Bruyne was bundled over inside the box.
The Belgian stood aside to allow Alvarez to fire home his 14th goal of the season despite largely playing second fiddle to Haaland.
Liverpool have tended to be City’s title rivals in the Guardiola era.
But they will be hoping for a favour from their old foes on Sunday when Arsenal go to Anfield hoping for their first away league win against Liverpool in 11 years.
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