Erling Haaland is inevitable. That, at least, is how it felt in Seville, and how it’s starting to feel in stadiums everywhere. Pep Guardiola had insisted that it is not only about the Norwegian and that if Manchester City does not play well it will not win. Here, they played well – which is reflected in Ederson’s first save, easy, which did not arrive until the 80th minute –, they won and he scored. Well, of course. Twice, in fact.
The man who was on pace for a goal every 44 minutes grabbed two more in 69 en route to a 4-0 victory as another Champions League campaign opens with demands to end the trophy “I love this routine, and it’s a routine after every match, to talk about him and his goals,” said Guardiola. “He’s always there, always. There’s always the feeling that he can score more goals.”
That this was expected should not overshadow the quality, although Guardiola admitted it had not always felt like 4-0. For Sevilla, there was certainly a feeling that this was always going to happen. “And finally, Man City,” a headline had said earlier. Sevilla went into crisis and suffered their worst start to the season in 41 years. The last thing they wanted was for Guardiola’s team to show up: the last thing they wanted was he.
The last time they met, Haaland scored four of Dortmund’s five in a 5-4 aggregate victory. That night, in this stadium, you could feel the fear every time he started running, the breath he took, the sound of his boot hitting the ball, a boom echoing around. It had been empty then, which perhaps exaggerated that feeling; now it wasn’t empty, but the net result was pretty much the same.
Despite all their problems, the home fans raised the roof. There was a roar as Papu Gomez produced an early nutmeg and they tried to carry their team through the slump. In the end, however, they called for the president’s resignation. Sevilla’s start has been brilliant. It was also brief, the jitters inside their area at the 11-minute mark an indication that they already knew this was going to be a long night.*
City took control, Jack Grealish hitting the side netting. When Haaland accelerated from deep, Sevilla had a familiar feeling, a flash of deja vu, that backed up as that stampede began.
Kevin De Bruyne struck twice. Marcos Acuña clipped a point off the foot of Phil Foden. It was relentless, in its own way: not intense as such, not a storm, but insistent. And then came the goal, which seemed obvious, both in execution and anticipation.
A play that has been seen a thousand times before and could be seen a thousand more, saw Foden roll that little diagonal past the full-back.
De Bruyne went past him down the other side to collect and shot across the six-yard box. Getting in, getting out of the leg, it was Haaland. “He has this innate instinct to be in the right place at the right time – not a second too early, not a second too late,” Guardiola said.
Whistles from the Sevilla fans soon followed, frustrated that City were keeping possession. That they achieved something, anything, was reflected in the roar that met the first corner and the first shot, Acuña’s effort went wide but still got a “huuy”. It got even stronger when Jesús Navas, once of Manchester City, Thomas Delaney and Gomez combined perfectly, a sign that, after all, they could play a bit.
When Sevilla pressed there was a sense of life, of rebellion, and the fans pushed them higher and higher. But that insistence also looked like it might be inviting a trap and the second half brought wider spaces, more chances and more goals for City. De Bruyne, out of defence, was denied by Bono, Haaland could have converted a header and João Cancelo ducked wide before Rodri fired home. And then came the second, just when Sevilla went up. “We scored when they were at their best,” Guardiola acknowledged.
City found space to run, Cancelo found Foden who switched back and forth, past Nemanja Gudelj and finished neatly. A glorious clipped pass from De Bruyne, looping and turning to the right, then started a move that ended with City inbounding the ball. Foden was in that time and although Bono saved, Haaland was there, in the right place, at the right time, to head home.
It was withdrawn soon after. His work here was done, another complete destruction. Although City weren’t, Rúben Dias scored a fourth in added time.
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