The Longshot: Europe's hottest young talent take each other on tonight

The Longshot: Europe's hottest young talent take each other on tonight

Georgia and Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (right) is a rising star in European football. His country face Erling Haaland’s Norway this evening. Picture: Getty

NORWAY are away to Georgia this evening in their European qualifiers and two of the most exciting prospects in European football will face each other: Erling Haaland and Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, who is six months younger than the City goalscoring machine.

Haaland has been garnering most of the attention on this side of Europe but the two could be on a collision course in the Champions League final as their clubs are on opposite sides of the draw.

If someone had told you at the beginning of the season how many goals (28) Haaland would have scored with 11 games remaining in the Premier League you would certainly not have figured they were the ones doing the chasing in a title race (eight points behind Arsenal with two games in hand).

He won’t get near Dixie Dean’s 60 goals in a season from 1927-28, but his numbers are still hard to fathom.

After hitting five against Leipzig in the Champions League and another hat-trick (his sixth for City - he is 11/4 to hit six more before the season is out) against Burnley in the FA Cup he now has 42 in all competitions in 37 games.

The Premier League era record is jointly held by Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mohamed Salah, who both scored 44 in 52 games or 0.84 goals per game. Haaland is averaging 1.08 this season.

His 28 league goals are better Sergio Aguero’s total return in any of his 10 Premier seasons with City and they built a statue of him! And better Wayne Rooney’s return in any of his 16 campaigns. Alan Shearer’s and Andy Cole’s record tally of 34 will surely fall by May or before that.

Amazingly Haaland’s 28 league goals have come from just 86 shots and, even more ridiculously, 573 total touches.

That’s a shot conversion rate of 33%, and a touch conversion rate of 5%.

Liverpool visit the Etihad on Saturday with the Norwegian 6/4 on making it to the 40-goal threshold by the season’s end. He is also 6/4 not to surpass the Cole/Shearer target, which barring injury, seems impossible not to occur.

The 50-goal barrier in the Premier League seems unlikely, even for a goal machine like Haaland, with bookies going 25/1 on what would be a freakish tally.

City are on a collision course with neighbours United in the FA Cup final with both sides being the bookies’ favourites to progress from their respective semi-finals.

Haaland is 14/1 to become the first player to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup final at Wembley since Blackpool’s Stan Mortensen in 1953.

It is also 2/5 on Haaland winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Phil Foden has claimed the honour for the past two seasons, but the England midfielder is too old this time around (and hasn’t played enough anyway).

Haaland is just a couple of months younger than Foden, but narrowly qualifies. His chief rival in the betting is Bukayo Saka with the Arsenal youngster is the 9/4 second favourite, ahead of teammates Gabriel Martinelli (8/1) and William Saliba (16/1). In this season’s Ballon d’Or betting, Lionel Messi remains odds-on to win the gong for the eighth time, but Haaland’s odds have been shrinking and he has leapfrogged Mbappe into second favourite his most recent goalburst and is now 5/1 for an award that will surely not eluded him in years to come.

Sideline stats

OUR colleague Denis Hurley mentioned on Twitter a few weeks back that of the 92 managers in the English football league, in 45th and halfway in terms of longest-serving managers, was Erik Ten Hag. Who was appointed on May 22 last year.

Since Patrick Vieira’s sacking at Palace and Antonio Conte left Spurs (the 11th managerial departure in the Premier League - doesn’t his prolonged and twirly handshake with Thomas Tuchel feel like it took place several seasons ago now?) ten Hag has moved up to 43rd.

How long before he is in the top 10, like Klopp and Guardiola, third and fourth in the veteran stakes and at their clubs since 2015 and 2016?

Recently departed Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann (he of the 80,000 moles in the countryside) is the favourite to replace Conte at evens Thirty-one-year old former Tottenham player Ryan Mason is 2/1 to take over..

Mason was interim head coach in 2021 when he was temporarily the youngest boss in Premier League history at 29.

Contrast that with Roy Hodgson, who at 75 is the oldest ever (breaking his own twice-set record) after being reappointed at Crystal Palace, having managed them as recently as 2021.

Roy is obviously seen as a safe pair of hands after the Frenchman failed to win one game in 12 since the beginning of the year.

Palace are only 11/2 to be relegated. They are 12th in the table but only three places above the drop zone.

Not that age or experience always count for much.

If Mikel Arteta leads Arsenal to the title this year (currently 8/13) he will become the youngest manager to lift the Premeir League trophy (he’s even younger than me for chrissakes).

The current holder of that record is Jose Mourinho, who won the title with Chelsea in 2004-05 when he was 42.

The oldest manager to win it is Alex Ferguson, who was 71 in 2013, 20 years after his first win at 51.

Pep was 47 years old when he won his first Premier League with City but by then he had already bagged three La Liga and three Bundesliga titles and was just 38 when he won the first of his Champions Leagues with Barcelona.

Dion Charles found out a brace against San Marino didn't get him the recognition he probably thought he deserved.
Dion Charles found out a brace against San Marino didn't get him the recognition he probably thought he deserved.

OUR print deadline was up before kick-off last night so we have no idea how Evan Ferguson fared on his competitive debut against France.

Spare a thought for another young striker, Northern Ireland’s Dion Charles (pictured above) who didn’t exactly write his name up in lights when scoring his first two international goals against San Marino last week. The TV caption writer seemed to harking back to bad old days when codenames were more de rigueur north of the border.

Print journalists are well aware such mistakes can happen, one of the more famous ones in these pages appearing many moons ago over a picture of former Ireland international Gary Doherty with a headline simply saying “heading heading”. He was heading the ball in the picture in fairness.

Texas scramblers

ONLY one USPGA tournament stands between us and the opening major of the year in Augusta, when elite players looking for a final tune-up take on the rest of the field who have one final opportunity to qualify for the Masters.

In fact, eight of the previous 10 winners at the Valero Texas Open have been non-Masters bound before their victory.

Relatively unknown JJ Spaun was a surprise winner last year as he won by two shots amid gusting winds to pick up his first career tour victory.

Looking at three out of the last four winners above, Spaun, Corey Conners and Andrew Landry all had pre-tournament odds of 200-1.

So if you fancy having a punt a week before the Masters the bigger prices should entice here.

The Bet

RICKIE Fowler needs to win the Texas Open to qualify for the Masters but I’d look for better value.

Meanwhile, take a three-timer on tonight’s international action: Georgia to beat Norway, Turkey to see off Croatia and Romania to beat Belarus at 18/1.

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