Football News

‘Lion waiting in the sun’ – One Van Nistelrooy-esque trait sums up Erling Haaland in Burnley 0-3 Man City

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:00, 11 August 2023

Erling Haaland continued where he left off as Manchester City began their Premier League defence with a 3-0 win at newly-promoted Burnley this evening.

In a meeting between the champions of England’s first two divisions, it was Pep Guardiola’s men who struck first and fast, Haaland’s effort coming just after three minutes, the quickest goal an opening match of a Premier League season has witnessed since 2018/19 when Paul Pogba netted after just 2 minutes and 23 seconds for Manchester United against Leicester City.

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As we’ve come to expect from the lethal Norwegian marksman — who has now scored against 17 of the 20 Premier League teams he’s faced (only failing against Brentford, Chelsea and Liverpool) — it came via his first touch of the game. “There’s three defenders around Haaland but he’s always on his toes and alive. He’s so alert and sharp. That’s the difference at this level,” Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports commentary.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the visitors with metronomic playmaker Kevin De Bruyne coming off injured. A frustrating sight for City’s faithful as the Belgian in a 23-minute cameo had displayed his majestic qualities. It’s a sight Guardiola is getting used to seeing and he will be hoping this latest setback doesn’t turn into a lengthy absence. For all his talismanic status City’s strength is not being reliant on a single individual. A switch in formation for City saw Phil Foden swapping flanks to accommodate for Mateo Kovacic’s arrival while Julian Alvarez moved left and Bernardo Silva came more central.

Those adjustments took a while to settle as Burnley enjoyed their best spell of possession. Clarets boss and former City skipper Vincent Kompany, the first Belgian to manage a Premier League match, gave debuts to five of his summer signings — Zeki Amdouni, Sander Berge, Luca Koleosho, Dara O’Shea and James Trafford (facing his old club) — on their Premier League return. But for all their huffing and puffing Haaland’s efficiency reared its head.

City’s second was an effortless yet ruthless finish. “He’s hardly been involved in the game, but he’s got two goals. That’s what he does. Burnley just switch off on the far side. Haaland doesn’t look at the goal, he just knows exactly where it is,” Carragher reflected. “One touch, right into the top corner. “That’s why he’s the best goalscorer in world football right now.”

His brace — from just three shots and nine touches — moved him to 100 goals in Europe’s top-five leagues (63 for Borussia Dortmund and 37 for Manchester City) – since his debut in January 2020, only Robert Lewandowski registered more (114). With each passing game, Haaland cuts an impassive figure, void of any distraction with every fibre of his being geared towards a single purpose. Once completed, the child in him escapes, but that joy is short-lived as the process instantaneously starts again. Goal scoring, in short, is an obsession. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who shared a similar addiction to the ball hitting the back of the net, explained it best: “It’s like the elixir of life.”

Huntelaar’s compatriot the celebrated Dutch coach Foppe de Haan once told his student Ruud van Nistelrooy to “wait like a lion in the sun” instead of chasing every ball. Van Nistelrooy would soon reveal that he became addicted to the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net. Reminded of that quote, Huntelaar nods to emphasise that he knows exactly what Van Nistelrooy means. “When you hear it you spend the whole of the next week longing to hear it again,” he said.

Haaland is cut from the same cloth as those Dutch strikers and De Haan would be proud of him especially when scoring twice in the opening half despite attempting just two passes. Guardiola on the other hand not quite as he was seen going over to him and remonstrating in front of the cameras as both teams were coming off the pitch. Much of what Guardiola said was inaudible but the Spaniard was heard shouting “That was totally the opposite” before walking over to slap the broadcast camera away.

“There will be some people who love the intensity of that, the relentlessness of it, showing why he’s a genius,” said Gary Neville during Sky Sports’ coverage. “There will be others asking why he’s doing it in a public forum with the cameras on. I’ve played with one of the most intense managers in the history of the game but he would have always done it in the dressing room.” Even so, Haaland became only the second player to score two or more goals in a team’s opening game of a Premier League season in consecutive years (also two against West Ham in 2022/23), along with Didier Drogba in 2009/10 (two against Hull) and 2010/11 (three against West Brom) for Chelsea.

Following the break it quickly became evident City’s objective was keeping the ball and maintaining control, rather than pushing forward in search of a third, but when opportunities presented themselves, especially on set pieces, the champions weren’t going to be kind. Rodri, the Istanbul hero, profited from another haphazard defending following a free-kick to give Burnley’s guest an unassailable 3-0 lead. As soon as that went in Josko Gvardiol came on to make his City debut and Haaland was taken off meaning no hat-trick.

He already did the damage without breaking too much sweat. Burnley also ended the game with ten men after Anass Zaroury was sent off following a dangerous challenge on Kyle Walker in stoppage time. On the day Walker’s former Tottenham teammate Harry Kane said goodbye to England’s top-flight this was another marker laid down by Haaland who is now unarguably the Premier League’s number-one centre-forward.