Manchester City striker Erling Haaland scored twice in the 4-1 obliteration of Southampton this weekend to take his tally to 44 goals in 38 games this season, which led manager Pep Guardiola to compare the 22-year-old directly with two indisputable luminaries in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"In terms of the thesis of scoring goals. He's quite similar in terms of Cristiano, but Messi is the more complete player," Guardiola told reporters after watching Haaland open the scoring against the Saints before doubling his haul with a spectacular overhead kick. "Messi can play wherever, while Cristiano and Erling are machines."
After arriving for €60 million from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, Haaland has now scored 30 goals in 27 Premier League games for City and is just four goals shy of the league's all-time single-season goal record -- held jointly by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer who both scored 34 goals in 1993-94 and 1994-95 respectively, both of which were 42-game campaigns.
Only two other players have scored 30 or more goals in their maiden season in the Premier League, with Cole netting 34 for Newcastle in 1993-94 and Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips bagging 30 in 1999-00.
Of course it would be remiss to reduce three great, multifaceted players to mere stats, but the numbers do suggest that Haaland is on course to match his rivals in terms of sheer output as his career progresses.
As things stand, the Norway striker has played 220 senior competitive club games in all competitions and scored 179 goals -- that's an average rate of 0.81 goals per game (GPG).
Messi's 220th senior club game came for Barcelona in a 2-1 away victory over Atletico Madrid in September 2010. The Argentine scored one and provided an assist, which took his overall club haul to 141 goals in all competitions -- an average rate of 0.64 GPG.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo's 220th club game for Manchester United came in a 0-0 draw against West Ham in May 2007. The Portugal winger didn't get on the scoresheet and ended the day as he began with 55 goals career goals to his name in total -- a comparatively average rate of just 0.25 GPG. Indeed, it wasn't until he really caught fire at Real Madrid that Ronaldo's goal rate really went into the stratosphere.
So, at current count, Haaland is comfortably outscoring both Messi and Ronaldo at the same career juncture, with 38 club goals more than Messi and 124 goals more than Ronaldo after 220 games in all competitions.
For their clubs, Messi has 695 goals in 846 games, while Ronaldo has 712 in 961. Internationally, you can add 102 goals in 174 for Messi and 122 in 198 (the most appearances ever in the men's game) for Ronaldo.
Haaland, meanwhile, has 21 goals in 23 games for Norway, which means he hit the 200th TOTAL goal of his career against Southampton at the age of 22 years and 261 days. For context, only Neymar did that quicker this century (22 and 256 days), while Kylian Mbappe (23 and 14 days) is third and Messi appears fourth on the list (24 and 54 days.)
All the City forward needs to do now is maintain his astonishing goal yield for the next decade if he wishes to truly be included in the same bracket as his counterparts.