Erling Haaland announced his arrival in English football with two goals, his trademark Zen pose, an s-bomb post-match interview and what amounted to a chilling Nordic warning to Manchester City’s rivals.
ot only are City’s opponents going to get sick of the sight of him meditating on the pitch in celebration, one senses they are going to struggle to stop Kevin De Bruyne teeing up Haaland time and again this season.
We wondered what this City side might look like with an out-and-out goalscorer and yesterday provided a glimpse of what could follow now Pep Guardiola has replaced his false No 9s with a real one.
Haaland’s father, Alfie, was in the London Stadium stands to see his son’s brilliant City debut in which he could have scored a hat-trick, with his failure to do so prompting him to swear live on Sky Sports television.
Asked about a couple of chances that got away, Haaland said: “I should have been there (to connect with Ilkay Gundogan’s cross). It’s a bit s*** but that’s how it is.”
Haaland repeated the swear word when reminded “steady with the language”, but it was his only misstep of the afternoon.
The likelihood is there will be plenty of match balls to come, as Haaland gave notice of how clinical he can be with a penalty, which he won, and a brilliant second goal, created by De Bruyne.
“I was fortunate as a manager to be with (Lionel) Messi and if he scored two, he wanted three, if he scored three he wanted four, and if he got four he wanted five,” Guardiola said. “The top goalscorers, the strikers, they are never satisfied. They are always hungry, starving, they always want more and more.”
Having seen Haaland face some scrutiny over failing to score in the Community Shield against Liverpool the previous week, the City manager added: “One week ago, he would not adapt to the Premier League and now he’s the best – alongside Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I’ve known him for a month. I know how he handled criticism this week and he was calm, he trained really well. We will see when he is complimented how he reacts.”
Haaland’s biggest impact before he opened the scoring had been felt by West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and acted as a prelude to his penalty. The Pole felt the force of Haaland’s outstretched boot as he got to the ball ahead of the Norwegian in the 22nd minute.
Fabianski required treatment and, six minutes, later had to be replaced by one of West Ham’s two substitute goalkeepers, Alphonse Areola. Areola had been on the pitch for only seven minutes when he was faced with Haaland, who is deceptively quick, running at him and the goal.
Joao Cancelo, possibly the first left-back to wear the No 7 shirt and who played more like a midfielder, passed the ball into Gundogan, who turned and set Haaland away. The former Borussia Dortmund forward easily got to the ball ahead of Areola and touched it past him before being brought down.
There was no question who was going to take the penalty, as Haaland picked up the ball before sending it into the bottom corner of the net.
Guardiola said: “The way he took the ball to take the penalty, I said, ‘Oh, I like it’. I think if someone were to take this ball, he would have punched his team-mates in the face. I’m pretty sure of that and that is a good sign. You’ve got to be self-confident, ambitious and have a ruthless mentality. And, of course, he scored it.”
As Haaland sat on the London Stadium pitch in a sense of celebratory Zen, City’s delirious supporters at the other end of the ground were anything but calm.
Only a late flurry of passes among the West Ham players meant that City dipped just under 80 per cent possession for the first half in which they dominated the ball.
Of all the visiting players, Haaland had the fewest touches in the opening 45 minutes and yet he also produced the most decisive, which is what will strike fear into the Premier League champions’ rivals.
Haaland almost slid in a low cross from De Bruyne, which Gundogan then put back across the face of goal, before the pair combined again to devastating effect in the 65th minute for the 22-year-old to double his and City’s tally.
De Bruyne cut the West Ham defence in two with a wonderful pass that sent Haaland through on goal and he opened his body expertly before stroking the ball past Areola and into the net. This time there was no meditating on the pitch, as Haaland pumped his arms in celebration and looked up to the area in which his father was watching.
Haaland could have completed what would have been a debut hat-trick shortly afterwards, but headed Jack Grealish’s cross over the bar, and he was given a hero’s send-off when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez with 12 minutes remaining.
Haaland and City’s start to the season was anything but “a bit s***”.
Telegraph Media Group Limited