Erling Haaland and Virgil van Dijk have always been fairly polite when talking about each other.
The two players share a mutual respect, befitting of players considered among the very best in the world.
However, the rivalry between Manchester City and Liverpool could be about to change all that, as the Premier League giants prepare to do battle in the Community Shield.
Haaland is in line to make his first competitive appearance for Pep Guardiola’s side following a £51million move from Borussia Dortmund earlier this summer.
After City edged Liverpool to the Premier League title last season, the arrival of Haaland – arguably the most exciting young talent in football – is designed to consolidate that edge.
Van Dijk and Liverpool will have other ideas, and the showdown between the two sides in Saturday’s curtain-raiser at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium will provide an interesting assessment of who might come out on top this summer.
Much of that could be down to the battle between Haaland and Van Dijk – and it will not be the first time the two powerhouses have come face-to-face.
Haaland stunned Liverpool as a 19-year-old at RB Salzburg when he netted in a 4-3 defeat to the Reds in the Champions League group stages in 2019.
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However, Haaland met the full force of Van Dijk in the return fixture, as the Dutchman put the Norwegian in his pocket.
Ahead of a meeting in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers for their respective nations, Haaland admitted Van Dijk is his toughest-ever opponent.
In a press conference, when was asked for his views on Van Dijk, he responded: “I do not really fear anyone, I think he is the best defender.
“I think quite a few others in the room agree with me on that. He is fast, strong and ‘bad’ smart, and there are three important things you must have.
“I have played against him twice, I have said that he is the best I have met. He is a good player, so we have to try to play around him.”
Speaking last year, Haaland doubled-down on his affection for the Reds star.
He said: “You know how tall he is, how strong he is and how fast he is, and also the timing is crazy.
“I don’t think I won one duel against him because he’s a physical monster.”
But the feeling is certainly mutual. In that World Cup qualifier, Haaland got himself on the scoresheet and managed to break Van Dijk’s finger in the process.
The striker said afterwards: “He came up to me and said ‘f***ing hell, I think you broke my finger.’ I have no idea how it happened.”
And despite the pain, Van Dijk has waxed lyrical about Haaland as well.
“Haaland is a special striker, because he’s so strong,” the Liverpool star said. “He’s quick, he’s got all the attributes to make a defender’s life very difficult.”
As the two stars prepare to take centre-stage in one of modern football’s great rivalries, it could be unstoppable force meets immovable object.
That usually results in fireworks – and quite frankly, we can’t wait.
Tune into talkSPORT for LIVE commentary of Man City vs Liverpool in the Community Shield from the King Power Stadium, kick off: 5pm BST
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