Erling Haaland announced his Premier League arrival with both goals as Manchester City eased to victory over West Ham United at the London Stadium. The summer signing scored a first-half penalty, before latching onto Kevin de Bruyne’s through ball as the blues started the new season with a win.
Much of the pre-match talk was about the big Norwegian, how he would fit into City’s style of play and whether he would need time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League season. There were suggestions that, following a quiet match against Liverpool in the Community Shield, Haaland would struggle in the English top-flight.
The summer signing silenced those doubts with a solid display that threatens a glut of goals, as has happened at every club he has played for. Haaland was the obvious target for many of City’s crosses as the blues staved off some early Hammers pressure to take control of possession and find a way through the home defence.
Ultimately, Haaland is a cog, albeit a rather large one, in the City machine that has set about chasing a third successive Premier League title in fine form. His goals are going to come from the vision of his teammates as well as crafting chances for himself.
That was evident throughout as the midfield continually tried to pick him out, Phil Foden’s cross just evading the big Norwegian. And when Ilkay Gundogan, last season’s title-winning hero, spotted Haaland’s diagonal run, the German picked him out beautifully and was only denied a chance to score due to being brought down by the keeper.
Haaland’s fast feet had taken the ball away from substitute keeper Alphonse Areola before he’d had chance to react. The result was a clear penalty as the keeper’s hands were caught between the ball and Haaland’s legs. The Norwegian picked himself up to take the penalty and, with City fans collectively holding their breath and the watching audience diving behind sofas everywhere, Haaland dutifully dispatched the spot-kick with confidence to give the blues the lead.
City could, and perhaps should have had more, but that won’t be a concern to Guardiola at present, particularly since they did add a second on 65 minutes. City broke up a rare Hammers attack and, when the ball came to de Bruyne midway inside his own half, there was only one person he was looking for to make the pass.
Haaland timed his run to perfection and latched onto de Bruyne’s magnificent pass through the Hammers defence. The striker barely looked towards the goal as he stroked the ball past Areola and into the back of the goal to send City home with the points.
Job done, Guardiola brought Haaland off 15 minutes later, and if West Ham breathed a sigh of relief, it would be replaced with exasperation as Julian Alvarez came on from his Premier League debut. To be fair, City were so much in control that it would have been no surprise if the Argentine further added to the score.
But 2-0 was enough for the blues, and the faithful will no doubt be looking forward to Saturday’s visit of newly promoted Bournemouth at the Etihad Stadium.
City lay down the marker
Although Spurs took the goal-scoring glory on the opening weekend as they beat Southampton 4-1, City again proved they are the team to beat. And the way they dispatched the Hammers with such composure and effectiveness was a gauntlet thrown down to other teams – take our title if you can.
Of course, the naysayers, the doom and gloom merchants will always point to the quality of the opposition, and Sunday was no exception. But it must be remembered that this is a Hammers side that has thrown off the shackles of being a pushover side to reach the semi-final of the Europa League last season and qualified for this season’s Conference League. Add to that the fact they beat Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, drew against City and scored in every home match in the Premier League last season shows just what tough opposition the Hammers have become.
And, while United lost at home to Brighton and Liverpool drew at newly promoted Fulham, Sunday’s result can be seen as the blues setting a marker for other teams to follow. And when you have Erling Haaland setting the pace, it already looks like a big marker to follow.