With the cracking of the back of the West Ham net as his entrance music, Erling Haaland announced his swaggering, awe-inspiring arrival to the Premier League. No easing into these foreign climes, no feeling out his teammates, one competitive game into his Manchester City career and this 22 year old has already done what he was signed to do.
Even for a team as great as Pep Guardiola's there were bound to be games, perhaps not enough to cost them a league title but maybe timed so as to rob them of a cup, like this one was shaping up to be. The opposition were organized and risk averse. The shots were not flowing all that freely. The passes at the back were even going astray on occasion. In years gone by this might have been an occasion for a customary City wobble. It may yet be. One game is not enough to say that Haaland has papered over what few hairline cracks there are in this great edifice.
But he is certainly offering them something they have not had before. Because how many forwards have there been who can blend the sheer size that Haaland offers with the sprinter's burst that earned him his two goals at the London Stadium today? By the standards of a City player, the new signing scarcely touched the ball today. He ended the game in the 79th minute with 32 touches when the outfield player nearest to him, Phil Foden, had nearly twice as many at 59. But then whilst his teammates are content to take the long way towards goal, Haaland pilots a wrecking ball through defenses that have been worn down by pass after pass. It worked to a tee.'
One of the few significant question marks over the Norwegian's Premier League adaptation would be whether he would find the space in which he so prospered for Dortmund. The run in front of one center back and behind his teammate had been something of a Haaland specialty in the high-line, all-pressing Bundesliga. Would such goals be possible when opponents tend to drop to the very edge of their penalty area?
If the pass is right -- and the likes of Ilkay Gundogan can be expected to deliver them relatively consistently -- the answer would appear to be in the affirmative. Haaland had dropped deep into central areas, dragging repurposed fullback Johnson with him to create some running room. When that seam emerged the young Norwegian flew forward at full throttle. No one had a chance of catching him. Alphonse Areola, introduced moments earlier after Lukasz Fabianski had suffered an injury, could only catch the forward's ankle with a despairing glove.
There was no doubt who would step up to take the spot kick nor much of a sense that Haaland would miss it. That in itself is worth a fair chunk of the €60 million City paid for their new No. 9. In the last five years only Manchester United have won more Premier League penalties than the 41 earned by Pep Guardiola's side, but the 27 they have converted into goals leaves them with a conversion rate that is better only than Fulham and Stoke City. The composure with which the Norwegian rolled the ball into the bottom left corner suggests the days when there was a serious debate over whether Ederson should take spot kicks are well and truly over.
Had it not been for Haaland's burst in behind it was tempting to wonder how long City might have been searching for that opener. A Phil Foden cross had merely clipped his blond locks, a couple of efforts from Kevin De Bruyne did not really test Lukasz Fabianski. Even after the opener, breaking down a David Moyes' defense, weakened though it may have been with three senior center backs out injured, proved to be quite the challenge.
Still, they largely had West Ham at arms' length. After Michail Antonio's early header flicked over the bar a capacity football crowd at this stadium had to wait 50 minutes for another effort on goal from their side, Declan Rice blazing over the bar after a rare moment of sloppiness from Gundogan. Though the hosts defended manfully, they simply could not get their boots on the ball for an extended spell early on.'
But as the game wore on they started to hope, pushing numbers forward, throwing debutant Gianluca Scamacca and Said Benrahma into the fray. That defensive line came inching up the pitch as West Ham attempted to fight fire with fire. And then just once the back line drifted out of shape, Kurt Zouma and Johnson leaving daylight between themselves. Now Haaland was doing that run into 20-plus yards of space. Of course, De Bruyne would find him with a pass that fizzed into his path. He did not even need a touch, instead opening his body to roll the ball past Areola.
A hat trick seemed inevitable until Guardiola concluded that enough damage had been done. City could then slip into their usual mode, throttling the contest with patience and possession. The knockout blow had long since been delivered.