If Erling Haaland believed the story, he would be sceptical of Manchester City’s victory over West Ham. Instead, he was always vigilant on West Ham’s vast London Stadium surface, showing his quick turn of pace to pounce onto a missed through-ball and win a penalty. His assured finish and contemplative celebration were nothing new, but they could be construed as a message to those who had doubted him earlier in the week.
And, after Riyad Mahrez and Pep Guardiola both stated that they expect the Algerian to take penalties despite the acquisition of Haaland, the perfect finish from 12 yards in off the post was perhaps one of the best spot kicks seen from City in some time. Mahrez may not regain those responsibilities.
Three touches to make his point
Haaland only got 16 touches in the first half against West Ham, but one of them was to nudge the ball past Alphonse Areola to win a penalty and another to convert the penalty. After the break, he was more involved, connecting up play more, but he only needed one more touch when sent free by Kevin De Bruyne to slot home his second after some West Ham pressure to end the game.
He watched a couple of runs go unchecked once more, and while City may have to get used to a centre attacker who doesn’t always show up for the ball, Haaland has a guy who is always vigilant in the box. Even on a quiet day, he will score goals, demonstrating that it is less important how many touches he has and more about what he does with them.
Pep Guardiola revealed on Friday that he didn’t know if Bernardo Silva would still be at City at the end of the transfer window, despite interest from Barcelona and the player’s long-held position that he’d be open to a departure. Bernardo started all three preseason games until being replaced by Ilkay Gundogan at West Ham.
Of course, there were tactical advantages to that choice, with West Ham boasting a quality midfield and Gundogan providing more control in a game won in the centre of the field. However, there are going to be linkages established between Bernardo’s future doubts and his prompt dropping on opening day.
Champions demonstrate their character
The city couldn’t have asked for a tougher first game than a trip to West Ham, and the hosts’ confidence may have been boosted by seeing Fulham take a point off an under-par Liverpool side, Brighton stun Manchester United, and Everton, Crystal Palace, and Southampton cause problems for Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham.
Despite a hectic first five minutes for West Ham, they rarely threatened a similar opening day upset, though, as City enjoyed a relatively comfortable first three points of the season. The league isn’t won on the first day, but the Blues know better than anybody that a win at West Ham is never certain, and this was a statement of determination from the champions.
Foden demonstrates what Guardiola requested
Guardiola urged Jack Grealish earlier this week to utilise any minutes in games or training to demonstrate why he deserved to play. He indicated he would play if players caught his eye.
So when Phil Foden was chosen ahead of Riyad Mahrez, and Guardiola said this week that his training performances were ‘incredible,’ it was a sign that the manager was backing up his words, and Foden did enough on the right to suggest he is a viable option there after the departures of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.