Goalscoring sensation Erling Haaland is fit again and set to spearhead the Borussia Dortmund attack for the second half of the season. Who’s to say that record-breaking teenager Youssoufa Moukoko won’t do so alongside him?
Moukoko did an admirable job of deputising for Haaland when the Norwegian was out injured in December, becoming the Bundesliga’s youngest ever goalscorer when he netted against Union Berlin at the age of just 16 years and 28 days.
With Haaland ready to come back against Wolfsburg this week, many people will expect Moukoko to make way for Dortmund’s iconic No. 9. Here, though, bundesliga.com investigates whether both players should play together in the new year.
There's no question that Haaland is Dortmund’s leading striker. The 20-year-old has been a wrecking ball in his first year in German football, scoring a 20-minute hat-trick on his debut and rarely letting up since.
Watch: Relive Haaland's record-breaking Dortmund debut
Haaland got 13 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances in the second half of last season after trading Salzburg for Dortmund in January. This year he looks even more dangerous, scoring 10 times in just eight league matches so far as well as six times in four UEFA Champions League group-stage games. All told, the Goldon Boy prize winner has 17 goals and three assists in 14 games in all competitions this season.
One highlight for Haaland in 2020/21 was a four-goal second-half salvo in a 5-2 win at Hertha Berlin on Matchday 8. The Norway international's goalscoring exploits in the capital almost overshadowed the fact that Moukoko had come on for him that night to become the youngest player in Bundesliga history - a day after his 16th birthday. Haaland gave a hint at what might be to come, though, when he highlighted the debutant’s obvious potential.
"I would love to play alongside him," Haaland said after the game.
"I think he's the biggest talent in the world right now… we're lucky to have him."
Watch: Moukoko created history in first Bundesliga game
The fearsome twosome
So could Moukoko and Haaland play together in the same Dortmund team?
Moukoko, though, could soon help their attack become an even better form of defence. BVB have usually played with one central striker but - while it's unlikely to happen every week due to his age - Moukoko could certainly do a job alongside Haaland.
It was bad enough for Bundesliga defences coping with Haaland when he was still a teen, after all - the Norwegian turned 20 in July - so how would they manage to keep two hugely gifted natural goalscorers quiet?
Watch: Check out Haaland's four goals against Hertha
With Haaland just one of many to praise Moukoko after his debut, the pressure - and the hype - began to build on the youngster. All the more so when his more senior teammate picked up a hamstring injury and missed the final seven games of 2020.
Moukoko moving up
With head coach Lucien Favre leaving the club following a 5-1 loss at home to VfB Stuttgart during that period, it was not exactly the ideal time for the attacker to be breaking into the team. However, Edin Terzic - Favre's interim replacement - had no worries about handing Moukoko his first Bundesliga start for the Matchday 12 victory at Werder Bremen.
The youngster didn’t score, but Terzic said the club were "very satisfied" with Moukoko’s contribution.
"The fact is Youssoufa is not in our squad because he's 16," Terzic said afterwards. "He's with us because he's good."
Moukoko had, Terzic stated, done "a great job for the team."
"It wasn't about him scoring the winning goal today," the former West Ham assistant said. "It was about him working for the team. He did that at 16 years of age so I have to pay him a huge compliment."
Terzic stressed that it was normal that someone so young still had much to learn. But it's a sign of the prodigy’s talent - and temperament - that he retained his place in the starting XI for Dortmund's final league game of the year at Union Berlin.
Another deadly finisher
The Germany U20 international, a prolific goalscorer at youth level, repaid that faith in some style. He hit the woodwork with a right-footed strike in the first half before smashing home with his left in the second half. In doing so, he shattered a goalscoring record that until this year had been held by former Dortmund playmaker Nuri Sahin.
Watch: Savour Moukoko's first Bundesliga goal
"We have to congratulate the young 16-year-old on his goal," Trimmel said afterwards. "It's something special."
Terzic praised Moukoko for his "really good game", while Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel was certain that his teammate is going to be "brilliant for the team and for the future of the club."
Has the future already arrived though? Even before Moukoko's goal, Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said the club wanted to "nurture" the teenager, and revealed they wouldn't sign another striker in the January transfer window.
"We hope that he'll be given playing time in the coming weeks and months because in training he’s already shown that he can be ready," Zorc told German sports magazine kicker.
Steffen Tigges, a regular on the scoresheet for the reserves, offers another alternative. The 22-year-old made his senior debut in the club's last game in 2020 - a DFB Cup win over Eintracht Braunschweig.
When and not if
Haaland's absence, meanwhile, was sorely felt. The five-time Bundesliga champions managed just one win in the four league games he missed in December.
He told the Norwegian press over the winter break that he wants to see his team reach new heights and set even higher standards in 2021. After getting 33 goals in 32 games during his first 12 months with the club, Haaland should get some welcome help from Moukoko on that front.
"I think he did a lot of good things," Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said of Moukoko after the Union game. "It was clearly his best game so far.
"It's almost reassuring that he’s needed time to get into the swing of things and isn't running rings around every defender in the Bundesliga at the age of 16.
"He's a really good kid and he's really going for it. We’re obviously happy for him that he got a goal."
Terzic must now decide if Moukoko is now ready to join Haaland in what would be a seriously pacy attack. The 38-year-old interim coach sought to downplay the chatter surrounding Moukoko, saying the club have to remain calm and give him time to develop. He conceded, though, that the quality the youngster possesses is already apparent for everyone to see.
With seven first-team appearances chalked up, it seems Moukoko is here to stay. Whether it happens straightaway or later in the season, it seems only a matter of time before he gets the chance to shine alongside Haaland.