Erling Haaland’s ‘passing map’ for his home debut at the Etihad Stadium was not exactly the scattered patterns of his team-mates.
Manchester City’s new £51million striker found his team-mates just twice all game. That is a stark comparison with Joao Cancelo, who has completed more than 200 passes in his two games this season. Indeed, passing the ball just twice in a Pep Guardiola team is an achievement itself.
Yet the Norway striker still pulled apart Bournemouth’s defence in the 4-0 victory — his first appearance at City’s home. (Read the full match report below.) He only had eight touches all game but showed how opponents will find it difficult to stop City with their new signing in the team.
Here is how his eight touches helped him win a match
One of Haaland’s two completed passes was at kick-off in the second half but his actions when play got under way earlier in the afternoon showed that he is the type of forward who will be the first line of defence for City when they do not have the ball.
Seconds after Bournemouth got the match started, he sprinted straight towards Lloyd Kelly to pressure him on the ball and force a long pass. His game is about patience when City are in possession but he will be part of an intense pressing game without the ball.
Haaland’s first touch of the ball came after an astonishing 19 minutes but it led to an assist for the opening goal. He had three players around him and was falling to the floor yet smuggled his pass through for Ilkay Gundogan to score.
Erling Haaland: The Creator. 🤝
Ilkay Gundogan: The Goalscorer. 🔥pic.twitter.com/kMhlA1iotv
— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) August 13, 2022
This is how he proved so effective: occupying multiple defenders and allowing team-mates to run off him into space. “He has the hunger and desire to keep the ball and to give the ball when we arrived in the box,” said Gundogan. “It was not meant to be in this game for him to score but he played well and made it easy for me to score. Hopefully in the future I can assist him.”
Running in behind
Those watching edited highlights of City’s 4-0 win could accuse Haaland of having a quiet game but this was not the case. After City had established a lead, Rodri sent him through with a lofted pass and he was through on goal, only for his footwork to let him down and the ball to come off his knee.
He kept making movements to run behind Bournemouth’s defence but was facing a backline who were so deep it gave him no space. He will have to stay patient and get used to this tactic when teams come to the Etihad to defend.
Haaland, according to first-team sources, is so eager to learn at City that he will closely watch training sessions he is not involved in. He is learning quickly that hard work is the foundation of City’s beautiful football. When he lost possession while trying to hold the ball up, he was manic in running back and trying to win the ball. He played an important role in Kevin De Bruyne’s goal when he engaged physically with Kelly and Jefferson Lerma. Despite losing the aerial challenge, City picked up the second ball and seconds later the ball shifted to De Bruyne, who finished off the move.
During a rare set-piece attack from Bournemouth, Haaland remembered almost at the last minute that he was needed in his own penalty area. When the long throw came in he headed away and also earned a free-kick. This could be a different dimension to City’s game this season, with Haaland a huge presence in the team.
As he walked from the team coach to the dressing room, dressed in a hoodie and blue Louis Vuitton rucksack, he towers over his team-mates. For a team who are short but technically superior, he adds a different way of attacking and will be important defending.
Only Mark Travers’ athleticism denied Haaland a goal on his home debut. After being found in a tight area in the penalty area, he made a chance out of a bouncing ball with a lob that was heading on target before Travers tipped over the crossbar.
His final action in the game was dragging a shot wide after Jack Grealish pulled the ball back to him, which was a chance he would be expected to put away. The worry for City’s opponents is that he would create these chances in a game where he was characterised as quiet.
Haaland was screaming at Phil Foden when he had a simple pass to set up an open goal but chose to shoot and had his effort saved. It was Foden who was taken off at half-time in a tactical switch, despite scoring City’s third goal. “He has to pass the ball,” said Guardiola. “Now he has to know Erling will be there all the time in these situations. In the past maybe with a false nine the players wouldn’t know, but this guy is there.”
Haaland also had half a shout for a penalty and had an easy finish pinched off his head by Lerma.
The incredible part of Haaland’s game is how patient he remained, showing maturity beyond his 22 years to hold his position and wait for his chances. There was no temptation to follow the way of Harry Kane, drop deep and get involved in build-up play as a No 10.
But he remained on the shoulder of the last defender and kept making well-timed runs even when the likes of Riyad Mahrez would shape to cross and check back.
Report: De Bruyne has Man City purring in Bournemouth rout
By Ian Whittell
The sixth anniversary of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City reign ended in a familiar way to so many before it, with his side brutally sweeping away hapless opposition and Kevin De Bruyne showing his pre-eminence as one of the Premier League’s all-time great performers.
It was a day, of course, when the City faithful attended en masse to witness the home debut of another of their players who may one day merit that accolade. But Erling Haaland was not on the scoresheet on this occasion - something that is unlikely to be uttered that often this season - and De Bruyne stole his thunder.
It all happened six years to the day that Guardiola first introduced himself to the Etihad and his team recorded an edgy 2-1 win over Sunderland, thanks to a late own goal.
Only De Bruyne and defender John Stones survive from the 17 players on duty for City that day although it could be argued that the former is still not yet at the peak of his powers given his ability to apparently improve with each passing season.
“When I was in Munich, Kevin played in Wolfsburg and was the best player in the Bundesliga,” said Guardiola. “So Kevin was a really good player before our arrival, he’s good with us and will be good after us!
“Hopefully, he can enjoy his football, hopefully he can be consistent in his performances.
“With his goal, I said ‘there is no space’ and he scored a goal. It was another really good performance; an assist for Phil, lots of crosses and it is difficult to do because Bournemouth defend really well.”
The goal could prove hugely significant as De Bruyne, already well ensconced in the top 10 of the Premier League’s all-time assist providers, scored 15 league goals last season, the most in his career and the most on his team.
“Last season was his most prolific for us and it is important for us that not just Julian (Alvarez) and Erling score goals,” he said.
“They have the quality to do it - Riyad, Gundogan, Jack (Grealish), Kevin, Phil (Foden) - really, really important. We have more distractions in our movement, more space for our strikers, more space for our attacking midfielders.
“Before last season, he was ‘assist, assist, assist.’ Now he is enjoying winning games and scoring goals. The pleasure to score goals is big so I can imagine again, his pleasure is big.”
De Bruyne’s “pleasure” was particularly evident in a first half in which City comfortably saw off their newly-promoted visitors and the 31-year-old turned in a virtuoso performance, pulling the strings of the marionettes around him.
The second goal was vintage De Bruyne, as Foden found him on the counter with a probing pass into a vacant inside right channel and he advanced, with Haaland ahead of him and Bournemouth’s defence furiously back-pedalling in response.
De Bruyne eventually took the obvious, and difficult, option, spying the shooting opportunity and depositing a magnificent finish with the outside of his right boot into the far corner.
An even more vintage De Bruyne moment arrived after 37 minutes when Riyad Mahrez pounced on a Bournemouth error deep in City territory and switched play to De Bruyne on the left wing. The playmaker swept a perfect pass through the legs of Chris Mepham for Foden whose shot was helped into the net by keeper Mark Travers.
To his credit, Haaland had actually played a key role in the opening goal after 19 minutes, holding up an Ilkay Gundogan pass superbly, despite the attention of three markers. Haaland took two touches to return the ball to his German team mate who beat Travers with an unstoppable shot.
Haaland threatened again; most notably in the first half with an audacious lob which Travers tipped over and, just before his 73rd minute substitution, his difficult shot from a Jack Grealish cross rolled just wide.
The rout was completed, however, on 79 minutes when Grealish and Joao Cancelo combined skilfully and the latter’s low cross was turned into his own goal by defender Jefferson Lerma.
Bournemouth wing-back Adam Smith vented his frustration with a late booking for a foul on Cancelo and some post-whistle shoving with the Portuguese and Grealish which had to be separated by players and coaches.
But that was the closest any of the visitors had come to laying a glove, actual or figurative, on the champions all afternoon.
“Unnecessary, honestly, unnecessary,” said Guardiola of the late outbreak of “hostilities.”
Opposite number Scott Parker, meanwhile, was left to analyse a predictable defeat, one rendered all the more so after last season’s leading scorer Dominic Solanke was ruled out with an ankle injury.
“The first 20 minutes, after their goal, then the two quick goals, at that point you could be in ‘for one,’” he said.
“I was pleased with the team in the way they stuck with it. But I said before, you need 11 men putting in 10 out of 10 performances, you need to ride your luck and you need to take the few chances you get. We didn’t manage to do that.”