As for presentations, Erling Haaland gave us a pretty good look at what’s to come over the next few months.
Both goals, of course. Truly explosive pace, smart movement, the uncanny talent – which he himself highlights – of never being offside and the ice finish in his veins.
We all knew he had it in him, it was just a matter of how long it would take him to demonstrate it in a Manchester City shirt.
Would his players find him, would his direct style blend in with his more patient colleagues? It’s impossible to say now if it will be like this more often, but it was quite a worrying start for the rest of the league, and the best in Europe.
Perhaps the most interesting thing isn’t whether he could do the things everyone knows he can do, but how would he adjust the little things he’s not so good at?
“A week ago he couldn’t fit in the premier league and now he rubs shoulders with Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo“, thought dryly Pep Guardiola afterwards, before making a better point.
“He came for five years, I hope he can stay longer and what we want is for him to be happy. He’s a guy with an incredible talent for scoring goals, but we would like to add something more to his game, to be a better player, not just a guy who scores goals, which is extremely important, but that’s why we want to try to give him everything to be a better player.
An example is his linking game. Sources around City have stressed that Guardiola won’t change his plans too much to adapt to Haaland, and that the Norwegian should just adapt, diving deep to connect the game like a series of false nines did over the course. of the last 18 months.
And basically every one of his touches outside of his two goals came falling deep in the West Ham defenders and find a teammate.
Athleticism‘s Ahmed Walid will take over on City’s use of Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo inside as central midfielders, explaining how the ploy led to City’s two goals, so let’s focus on the Norwegian big ram that will dominate Monday morning’s headlines.
And that linking game, which is often seen as the weakest element of his impressive game, was…brilliant, in fact.
Just like his attack spaces behind the West Ham defence. A perfect example came just after the hour mark.
At the start, he fell deep to receive a pass from rodrisent it to Walker and then launched into his run as City staged arguably their shrewdest move of the afternoon.
They were looking for game changes at a winger (Jack Greish to the left, Phil Foden right) all afternoon, and on this occasion, as Foden received the ball, he had Kevin De Bruyne smoking to the right half-space.
Foden found it and De Bruyne produced one of those low crosses to the back post of his own, but he just eluded Haaland. Ilkay Gundogan almost took advantage of it, but his shot was timid.
What it showed was that perfect mix of what Haaland is going to have to do: drop to link play in the center circle, but be alert, mobile and quick enough to go finish the move as well.
It may not have brought a goal, but it sends a warning to other teams that Haaland understands what is being asked of him.
Shortly after, he did it again, dropping to take a pass from Nathan Akerelieving the pressure on his team and finding Rodri, before turning around and charging forward.
This time it didn’t result in a chance, but it showed what he had to do.
And there were plenty of other passes that were nothing more than routine but prove that Haaland is hardly a lummox who can barely control the ball.
He made just 23 assists (see below), the fewest of any City starter, but almost all of them were a test of how quickly he can slot into this dizzying passing machine. A passing accuracy of 91% is therefore rather promising.
This is of course not the part of his game that will warrant the deserved hype surrounding his arrival. If he hadn’t scored on Sunday, the praise for his five-yard passes with a defender on his back might have sounded a little hollow, but given that it’s one of the things he had to improve, that was a good sign. On one occasion, fans praised his dad with a rendition of “There’s Only One Alfie Haaland” as he did.
And of course, there were instances where he was downright dangerous with his interaction. In the first half, De Bruyne had a strike ruled out for offside after Gundogan strayed past the last defender, but it was Haaland’s turn and a pass behind that got him there.
Gundogan was quick to repay the favor – perhaps underlining why he got the nod Bernard Silva – picking up the ball in his preferred left half-space, spinning and passing the Norwegian forward. Haaland rushed behind and took the ball around the goalkeeper Alphonse Areole, which knocked him down. Haaland immediately grabbed the ball and his composed finish grazed inside the post.
While some elements of his Premier League debut were pleasantly surprising, one was almost entirely predictable.
De Bruyne was a little rusty, his radar a bit off, but when the opportunity arose to play a ball into space for Haaland, he did exactly what he needed to do. Just like Haaland, who took his chance and finished with certainty.
VAR has ruined many moments like this over the years, but not this time.
“I thought about it all my life, I fell behind to time it perfectly,” Haaland said during pre-season. “My dad and I discussed this a lot, and when VAR came along it was just good for me, because then the truth is actually there that I’m almost never offside.”
So it turned out this time, because there was never any question that the goal could be ruled out.
And so he was left to reflect on his debut. “I could have (did a hat-trick) with Ilkay’s just before leaving, so it was a bit of crap,” he said on Sky Sports.
Indeed, he was livid with himself when Gundogan produced a low ball through the box from the left.
When Guardiola was pressed on how he wants his new striker to improve, he referred to Haaland’s own comments: “What he has already said. Finish left and right, with his head, the movements.
The City boss also stressed that the team will still have to be patient, to continue working the ball left and right, but that they have “a new weapon”, as he called it, when he s is about opening up teams. “We felt like we could find him more… now we have him and when the defense is high with open space these guys have to find him. When you have that open space and Kevin, it’s hard to stop him.
Obviously, there is more to come.
(Top photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)