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striker fire Erling Haaland set for his ultimate audition in front of Pep Guardiola

Champions League dream endangered by Norwegian

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Erling Haaland's movement is one of the biggest threats to Manchester City's Champions League ambitions this season but he could also be one of their most potent weapons in the future if they sign him. Photo by: Getty Images

Erling Haaland's movement is one of the biggest threats to Manchester City's Champions League ambitions this season but he could also be one of their most potent weapons in the future if they sign him. Photo by: Getty Images

Erling Haaland's movement is one of the biggest threats to Manchester City's Champions League ambitions this season but he could also be one of their most potent weapons in the future if they sign him. Photo by: Getty Images

Pep Guardiola must be dreading Tuesday night and the visit of Erling Haaland and Borussia Dortmund.

For it is quarter-finals time in the Champions League. And he has to get the monkey off his back.

Guardiola was brought in to make Manchester City the most powerful and successful team in Europe. That was his brief.

Yet under him they have gone out in the last 16 to Monaco and exited at the last-eight stage to Liverpool, Tottenham and truly with a whimper last season to Lyon.

The quadruple of all three domestic trophies, as well as Champions League glory, remains on. In terms of the Premier League, it is only a question of when, not if, his third top-flight title in four years is safely tucked away. That is only a matter of time.

Given City’s dominance this season, Guardiola should be fairly relaxed at the prospect of taking on Dortmund, especially as his side have conceded just the one goal in eight European encounters this season.

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Central defenders John Stones (right) and Ruben Dias will have their work cut out

Central defenders John Stones (right) and Ruben Dias will have their work cut out

Central defenders John Stones (right) and Ruben Dias will have their work cut out

Yet events, somehow, have conspired against him in the competition that he won twice with Barcelona but in which he has failed three times at Bayern Munich and four at the Etihad.

That is a seven-season itch. If he fails again, there will be a tarnished edge to his glittering reputation as a serial winner.

His cause is not helped by the imposing arrival of Haaland, son of former City hero Alf-Inge, and a boyhood fan who would pose in light-blue replica shirts.

The Norwegian striker is a real force of nature.

Going into this weekend, he had scored 49 goals in the 49 games since he snubbed Manchester United two years ago and left RB Salzburg for Dortmund.

His transfer fee was £18.6m – an amount that now seems laughably low.

There is a buy-out clause in his contract that will allow him to leave for £65m at the end of next season.

Even allowing for the way Covid-19 has diminished finances in football that figure, too, is a joke given the impact Haaland has made with his Bundesliga club.

Yet his presence at the Etihad is unlikely to be a laughing matter for Guardiola.

The Catalan would, of course, love to have him as his player but insists that his wage demands – an astonishing £600,000 a week for a five-year contract – are well beyond what even City can afford.

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Pep Guardiola gets all worked up,

Pep Guardiola gets all worked up,

Pep Guardiola gets all worked up,

And, currently, the club’s owners are a mind-blowing £2bn into their masterplan of making City the biggest and best in the world.

All-time club record scorer Sergio Aguero is leaving at the end of the season and Haaland should be the No 1 target to replace him.

But the money, claims Guardiola, is not there.

Instead, it is he and his quadruple-chasing players who are in Haaland’s sights.

At least there is the comfort for Guardiola of knowing he now has a central-defensive partnership in Ruben Dias and John Stones that he can trust.

The concern for City fans is that they may not be able to trust Guardiola, which, given his domestic success, may appear odd.

Yet every year he has become more and more stressed in his Champions League quest.

None more so than last season, when he ripped up his usual game plan, went ultra-defensive and lost to the then sixth-best team in France.

That 3-1 defeat was an embarrassment for Guardiola and with Jurgen Klopp taking his Premier League title, the lowest point in his time as a manager in English football.

Now he is heading for a place no one else has ever gone in search of that quad.

He will have the sense that if he can just guide his players through the Dortmund clashes, then history can be made.

Except that his history in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is in danger of coming back to haunt him.

And if he isn’t spooked by the prospect of Haaland’s imminent arrival, then he should be.

Another failure at this stage would not look good for him at all.

City could yet win the FA Cup and League Cup and, of course, are Premier League champions-elect.

Yet Guardiola still faces the bizarre prospect of being seen as a failure if, once again, that European dream turns into another nightmare.

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