Erling Haaland proclaimed his swaggering, awe-inspiring entry into the Premier League with the sound of the West Ham goalkeeper’s net cracking as his introduction music.
Without acclimating to these unfamiliar surroundings or getting to know his teammates, this 22-year-old Manchester City player has already accomplished the goal for which he was recruited.
Even for a team as good as Pep Guardiola’s, there were inevitably going to be matches, perhaps not enough to prevent them from winning the league, but perhaps timed to prevent them from winning the cup, as this match was looking to do. Organized and risk-averse was the opposition. Shots were not being fired very freely. Even the back passes were moving forward. occasionally go awry. In the past, this might have been cause for the typical City wobble. It still might be. One game does not demonstrate Haaland’s ability to patch up the few hairline flaws that do exist in this massive structure.
He is undoubtedly providing them with something new, though. Because it is rare to find a forward with Haaland’s combination of physical presence and the kind of sprinter’s burst that led to his two goals at the London Stadium today. The new addition hardly touched the ball today by City player standards.
He had 32 touches when the game concluded in the 79th minute, compared to Phil Foden, the outfield player closest to him, who had 59 touches. Haaland then drives a wrecking ball through opponents that have been worn down by pass after pass, while his teammates are content to take the long route to the goal.
It performed perfectly.
If the Norwegian could locate the spot where he thrived for Dortmund in the Premier League, it would be among the few huge unknowns. In the high-line, all-pressing Bundesliga, the run in front of one center back and behind his colleague had become something of a Haaland trademark. If opponents frequently drop to the extreme edge of their own penalty area, are such goals even possible?
If the pass is accurate—and players like Ilkay Gundogan can be counted on to deliver them fairly frequently—then the answer would seem to be yes. Haaland had moved deep into the center of the field, dragging Johnson behind him as a substitute fullback to open up some space for running. The young Norwegian flew forward at full force as soon as that seam showed. Nobody had a chance of catching him. Alphonse Areola, who had just replaced Lukasz Fabianski due to an injury, could only hopelessly grasp the forward’s ankle with his glove.
Both the person who would attempt the penalty kick and the likelihood that Haaland would miss it were clear. The €60 million City spent on their new No. 9 is worth a significant portion of that just in itself. The 41 penalties Pep Guardiola’s team have earned in the Premier League over the past five years are second only to Manchester United’s total, but with 27 goals scored from those penalties, Pep Guardiola’s team has the third-best goal conversion rate after Fulham and Stoke City. The poise with which the Norwegian rolled the ball into the bottom left corner indicates that the day when there was a heated argument over Ederson’s right to take penalty kicks has long since passed.
It was tempting to speculate how long City may have been looking for the opener if Haaland’s burst in from behind hadn’t occurred. Two attempts from Kevin De Bruyne did not truly put Lukasz Fabianski to the test; a Phil Foden cross had only clipped his blonde hair. Breaking down a David Moyes defense proved to be quite difficult even after the opener, despite the fact that it may have been weakened by the absence of three senior center backs.
They were still able to keep West Ham at a distance, though. A football stadium filled to capacity had to wait 50 minutes for another attempt on goal from their team after Michail Antonio’s early header glanced over the post, with Declan Rice firing over the bar after a rare instance of carelessness from Gundogan. The hosts put up a valiant defense, but they were unable to touch the ball for a while in the beginning.
However, as the game went on, they began to gain confidence, pushing the numbers forward and including rookies Gianluca Scamacca and Said Benrahma in the battle. West Ham made an effort to fight fire with fire as that defensive line crept up the field. Just as the back line started to lose its structure, Kurt Zouma and Johnson separated themselves. Haaland was now making that run into a gap of more than 20 yards. De Bruyne would undoubtedly locate him with a pass that fizzed into his direction. Instead of needing even a touch, he simply opened his body and rolled the ball beyond Areola.
Up until Guardiola decided that enough damage had been done, a hat trick appeared to be inevitable. After then, City could resume their regular strategy of controlling the game with patience and possession. The decisive blow had already been dealt.