unstoppable? | 

Why Erling Haaland has changed the Premier League in four matches

Erling Haaland of Manchester City © Getty Images

Roy CurtisSunday World

The first kisses in the love affair between Manchester City and Erling Haaland have instantly, irrevocably altered the dimensions of the football universe.

Haaland with City blue as his second skin, a piercing, panic-inducing, devastating spearhead at the apex of Pep’s hippodrome of refined technicians, changes everything.

The addition of such a precise, cold-blooded killer brings a sense of the inevitable to a Premier League title race exactly 100 days after its 2021/22 predecessor was decided in the final breathless minutes of its last, manic Sunday.

Now with Haaland, six goals in his first four league appearances and already odds-on to smash Mo Salah’s 38-game era record of 32 goals in a season, it feels like the outcome of the contest is pre-determined from the start.

Given the advantages City already enjoy, it seems almost unfair. Like blindfolding and tying the legs of every wildebeest together at feeding time for the Serengeti lions.

This radar-fixed Viking longship – he stands just a shade under 6’4” and is a frightening study in power, acceleration, strength and composure – feels essentially unstoppable.

With the Champions League kick-off a week away, it is in Europe that City can truly cash in on the Haaland dividend.

Any number of Guardiola signings take at least a season to properly adjust to his obsessive ways, the unique technical and tactical demands he makes of his playing staff.

Haaland, even as his direct style challenges and revises his coach’s fundamental philosophy of how the game ought to be played has adapted instantly to his new surroundings.

He is so good at what he does that, almost overnight, he has converted aesthetic-obsessed, process-god Guardiola into happily Pragmatic Pep.

The 19-minute weekend hat-trick that broke Crystal Palace offered the latest startling statement of the centre-forward's credentials.

Goal number three - an intelligent run and surge of pace taking him into the danger area, immense strength rendering two closely-attending defenders impotent, cold-eyed predatory impulses facilitating his hitting of the bull's-eye - was essence-of-Haaland in one pitiless snapshot.

The early figures are dazzling. Four games into the season, only four of City’s 19 Premier League ‘rivals’ have netted a greater number than this one-man liquidator of opposition hope.

The Norwegian has scored more league goals than the entire lavishly assembled Chelsea or Manchester United squads, while his six-shooting opening salvo place him ahead of the combined tally of Wolves, West Ham and Forest.

In the remarkably prolific 2017/18 season when he set that 32-goal record (Andy Cole scored 34 in a 42-game season) and netted 47 times in all competitions, it took Salah until November to reach six Premier League goals.

Haaland achieved the same milestone with a week remaining in August, 70-days earlier than the Egyptian king.

It offers a frightening insight into the modus operandi of an athlete whose design as a goal scoring Terminator could hardly be bettered by those scientific laboratories where Bond villains labour to create their killing machines.

The final insult: Haaland cost some £40m less than United have agreed to spend on Dutch winger, Anthony; £25m less than Chelsea invested in Kai Havertz; he was £20m cheaper than Arsenal’s recently loaned out nonentity, Pepe.

For City, the Champions League, if not quite their alpha and omega, remains the glaring absence from a sparkling modern CV.

Though the man himself gets more than a tad spiky when questioned on the blank page in their story, it is only by finally conquering Europe that the Guardiola era in England's North West can truly feel complete.

Haaland has been signed to soothe City’s European anxieties, to be a fluent difference maker on a stage where their domestic imperiousness so often deserts them, the counter-punch that staggers a Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG, Liverpool or Chelsea.

With creator-in-chief Kevin de Bruyne instantly tuning into the 22-year-old’s preferred location on The Etihad bandwidth, Guardiola heads into next week’s opening fixture in Seville with unprecedented nuclear capability.

The Catalan has been unable to add to his two nights of Champions League glory without Lionel Messi as his dazzling field marshal.

Haaland could hardly be more different to the impish Argentine magician in physical stature or style.

Yet, more than 11 years on from the last triumphant European flourish of the Pep/Messi Supremacy, Guardiola might have found the partner to replace the irreplaceable.

The oddsmakers have City as their 5/2 favourites to strike Champions League gold in Istanbul next June.

Given the nuggets Haaland is already unearthing in these early days as City’s chosen treasure hunter, the bet already feels less like a speculative punt than a clever blue-chip investment.


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