This season, it will be common to see Kevin De Bruyne pick up the ball in the middle of the field, lift his head, and play a defense-shredding pass through for Erling Haaland to race away from his markers and slot a clinical finish past a despairing goalkeeper.
Who says Pep Guardiola doesn’t know how to use a striker? Early indications suggest that Manchester City’s new No. 9 will not disturb Guardiola’s passing machine. The champions overpowered a sluggish West Ham team from start to end, winning 2-0 courtesy to two goals from Haaland, who followed up a first-half penalty with the type of strike that implies he is already a star.
The champions dominated a sluggish West Ham side from start to finish, winning 2-0 thanks to two goals from Haaland, who followed up a first-half penalty with the kind of goal that suggests he is already on the same wavelength as his new teammates.
The focus for City over the summer was on finding ways to stay motivated. In some ways, Guardiola has followed Sir Alex Ferguson’s formula of renovating from a position of strength, selling Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Oleksandr Zinchenko, but the fundamentals have not changed.
It’s about evolution rather than revolution, and it was immediately clear that this was the same City, albeit with one key difference: an attack led not by a twinkle-toed false nine, but by a big, muscular target man whose primary function is smashing the ball into the back of the net.
Haaland drew everyone’s attention right away. It even seemed that there were questions for the 22-year-old to answer after some nervy finishing during City’s defeat to Liverpool in the Community Shield. For instance, would the physicality of English football be too much for a player accustomed to the less robust defenders of the Bundesliga? And just what did Guardiola have in store for the former Borussia Dortmund striker?
A spell at left back? A position as a backup right winger?
A City goal was on the way. When 21 minutes, Foden switched to his left foot and sent a tempting cross for Haaland, who sneaked away from Ben Johnson and groaned after his header went wide.
It was a horrible miss, but he’d soon rediscover his stride. A crowd of 62,500 cheered David Moyes’ team on at the outset, but disenchantment soon set in. At times, there was even a sensation that the Moyes project was becoming stale beneath the surface.
The strain increased as Antonio was unable to hold the ball aloft.
Grealish was constantly eager to run at Vladimir Coufal on the left, and the hosts were given a reprieve in the 27th minute when the flag was raised for offside when Gündogan set up De Bruyne for an easy finish.
Guardiola’s tactical intent shaped the game. Rice and Tomas Soucek, West Ham’s midfield screeners, had no idea where to look. There was always a spare yellow shirt, and the ruse ultimately paid off. Gündogan pushed forward and played the pass, Haaland brilliantly timed his run, and Alphonse Areola, who had just taken over in goal for the injured Lukasz Fabianski, took the forward down.
It was a straightforward penalty, and Haaland knew it as he walked up to accept it. The finish was flawless, a low left-footed strike arrowing into the bottom-right corner, with Areola sent the other way.
West Ham needed a new strategy after starting the season without any of their summer recruits.
They played with more vigour in the second half, and Moyes took a risk by replacing Antonio with Gianluca Scamacca, his new £35.5 million striker. West Ham produced a few fleeting flashes. With a feeble shot, Sad Benrahma, who came on as a replacement, gave Ederson something to think about. After a defensive blunder, Rice shot over.
Nonetheless, City appeared to be on the verge of scoring again. Gündogan squandered an excellent chance, and De Bruyne ripped West Ham open with 25 minutes remaining. The pass was a piece of magnificent beauty, and there couldn’t have been a single person inside the ground who believed Haaland was going to miss as he ripped down the inside-right channel and opened up his body to work on the ball on to his left foot.