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Monday, June 24, 2024

Erling Haaland shows Man City’s transformation from the recent past

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After a glimpse of Manchester City’s stylish past came an illustration of their powerful present. David Silva was on the pitch at the Etihad Stadium before kick-off, his first return since his 2021 departure allowing the City faithful to pay tribute to an old favourite. Erling Haaland took the field after that, scored four goals in under an hour and left City only requiring three more wins to clinch a record fourth consecutive title.

Silva captained them to the first but if he was upstaged on his return, that is probably how a self-effacing figure prefers it. If there has been a shift in City’s identity, from the small Spanish passer to the giant Norwegian scorer, the midfielder may be far more emblematic of Pep Guardiola’s natural philosophy than the striker. But goals have an eloquence of their own and on days like this, when Haaland is marauding and magnificent, there is a pragmatic logic to recalibrating the side around him.

A ninth City hat-trick, a third this season and, after one in 2022, a second against Wolves extended his remarkable record. He made 59 starts in the Bundesliga and scored 62 goals. After 59 in the Premier League, he has 61. This season, when his form has been mixed, he still has 36 goals in all competitions, 25 of them in the Premier League. A second successive Golden Boot looks a formality. In due course, he will probably join Silva among the figures granted their own statue outside the Etihad. They are, though, very different players. If one of the few criticisms of Silva was that, at times, he could be too infrequent a scorer, Haaland has the capacity to run amok when he senses weakness.

Haaland was unstoppable against Wolves (Getty)

And Wolves represented poor opposition. Having beaten City in October, they were rather less impressive in the rematch. That two of Haaland’s goals came from the penalty spot seemed to add to the Wolves supporters’ sense of grievance with the authorities, though each decision was probably justified. Gary O’Neil, banned for his reaction to previous refereeing decisions, had to watch his heaviest defeat as Wolves manager from the stands. Guardiola had a more pleasant view from the touchline as City made it 43 games unbeaten at home, a club record, and 32 anywhere, penalty shootouts aside.

It amounted to expected riposte to Arsenal’s defeat of Bournemouth and leaves the Gunners reliant on Fulham, Tottenham or West Ham taking points off City. There were few signs Wolves could counter as Haaland set about demolishing them. His two spot kicks were combined with two wonderful goals.

The opener came from 12 yards as, not for the first time, Wolves were architects of their own undoing. It may have shown the problem of fielding a left-footer at right wing-back as Rayan Ait-Nouri, caught in an unfamiliar position, upended Josko Gvardiol after the Croatian shot. Haaland, starting for the first time since the second leg against Real Madrid, dispatched the penalty.

Man City legend David Silva returned to the Etihad (Getty)

His second showed his aerial ability, Haaland producing a towering header that Jose Sa stood and watched go past him. The instigator was Rodri, who won the ball, exchanged passes with Kevin de Bruyne and crossed.

The third was an indirect consequence of his pace. Nelson Semedo tripped Haaland after he raced on to Mateo Kovacic’s pass; Craig Pawson initially ruled it was not a penalty but changed his mind after watching it. Sa got a fingertip to the spot kick, but Haaland scored it.

There was a brief interlude as Wolves reduced the deficit, Hwang Hee-Chan dispatching a half-volley into the empty net after Ederson contrived to leave his line and only diverted Jean-Ricner Bellegarde’s cross to the Korean. It brought a response. Haaland latched on to Phil Foden’s 50-yard pass, cut inside Max Kilman and thumped a shot past Sa. The newly-anointed Footballer of the Year used to be compared to Silva, but it was the sort of ball the Spaniard rarely played.

Julian Alvarez fired home City’s fifth goal (Getty)

For Haaland, it could have been a third day when he scored five times for City. Sa made a brilliant save from a downward header. He tipped a rising shot over. The striker looked aggrieved to be removed, shaking his head at Guardiola’s decision as Julian Alvarez replaced him.

Instead, the fifth goal went to the Argentinian. Haaland may reflect it could have been his, but it came courtesy of another assist for Rodri: these days, Silva may note, he is not the Spanish midfielder setting up goals for City.

As Guardiola rang the changes, there was a cameo for Matheus Nunes. A day defined by a striker featured a player who went on strike to leave Wolves. The £50m man has been an afterthought in City’s campaign but at least his sale served a purpose in helping Wolves abide by Profitability and Sustainability Rules. Otherwise, however, it was a day when the numbers looked better for City.

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