Erling Haaland plays his first Premier League test with Manchester City
by Erling Haaland City of Manchester The legacy was never going to be defined after one Community Shield appearance and it certainly won’t be sealed after a Premier League game in August. Whether his time at the Etihad proves legendary or subpar will be told in due course. But so closely monitored is his move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City, and such is the pressure on him to perform under Pep Guardiola, that his every performance will fall into the spotlight. And his first Premier League experience couldn’t have gone much better.
With a penalty kick and a clinical finish on a blistering counter-attack, Haaland proved his worth in Sunday’s season-opening 2–0 win over West Ham. His double accounted for both of Manchester City’s goals on the day and perhaps ended the early anxiety surrounding his 16-touch, set-lost display against Liverpool last weekend.
The lumbering Norwegian came out firing, equalizing with the penalty that would lead to City’s opener. Guardiola was particularly impressed with his desire to take the spot, let alone his ability to convert it. It is recognized that with Haaland in tow, City’s ceiling – which is saying something for a club that has won four of the last five Premier League titles – must rise, and as a result, the goals and wins must flow. Despite his outrageous scoring record (86 goals in 89 appearances for Dortmund) not every game can be a masterpiece, but Sunday’s, in which he wore an oddly Dortmund-like shirt, at least quelled the criticism.
“I know how he handled a lot of criticism this week,” Guardiola said after the match. “He was really calm, he trained really well, but the way he took the ball for the penalty I said, ‘I like it.’
“So direct and I think if someone gets the ball he’d punch them in the face even though they’re mates! And this is a very good sign. To be so sure, I like it.’
His second showed the kind of devastating player he can be in the open field. Jack Grealish, last summer’s transfer splash, opened the action, with Kevin De Bruyne eventually splitting the defense with a trademark through ball to find Haaland in stride, streaking behind his marker. He didn’t even have to take a touch before setting up to shoot, such was the weight of the pass and such was the technique required to score. Instead of trying to round the keeper, he opened his hips and calmly used his left to pick out the back post. For a club that didn’t really have a true striker last season, they now have arguably the best in the game, and when needed, he can show it.
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“Erling scoring the two goals, it’s important for him and the team and for us and it’s another weapon we have now,” Guardiola said. “But at the same time he’s not going to solve all our problems, he’s going to add something to us as a team. That’s what we’re looking for.
“Today, the two goals were balls in front of the center of the defense and we felt we could find him more.
“In the past we didn’t have a report like that and now we have it again, but at the same time guys have to put the ball in there, especially in transition. It was an incredible second goal and incredible energy from Jack. He’s been given the ball, he’s holding onto the ball and he’s engaging opponents and he’s found a pocket and when that happens with Kevin, with a guy, it’s hard to stop.”
Haaland had twice as many touches against West Ham as he did against Liverpool, and as time goes on and the games in which he will really be judged – Champions League knockout games – he will, in theory, have adapted even more to the new his environment and in his new league. He is a player who will be asked questions at every turn, no matter how many goals he has in league appearances. But on a weekend where Liverpool dropped points and Manchester United were beaten at home by Brighton, Manchester City are on a roll. And when it comes to debuts, like Haaland’s celebration of meditation, he couldn’t have been much more calm and composed.
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