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Haaland gives Man City an extra dimension and the striker reaped the benefits against Crystal Palace
Manchester City would have lost this match without Erling Haaland. City have even lost this exact match a few times in the past without Erling Haaland.
Crystal Palace looked destined at halftime to increase their points tally at Etihad over the past five seasons to 10. Two goals clear and having not conceded a shot on target, Patrick Vieira looked poised to repeat the same trick as the last. year.
But 39 minutes later, Pep Guardiola aggressively punched Haaland’s chest after giving his striker a standing ovation.
Erling Haaland scored his first hat-trick for Man City and inspired a 4-2 win against Crystal Palace
He had done his hat-trick and earned the reception with the match. Three goals from 18 hits, for those who like to keep counting.
A force of nature, Haaland can handle that, as many will discover. Match balls will flow and he will turn bigger games than this.
But this particular challenge is exactly why City paid £51million for him this summer. For the awkward afternoons when they are mediocre, against stubborn opposition that has their noses at their feet.
“These games are why I’m here, to turn things around in difficult times,” Haaland said.
In the past – and last October’s 2-0 home defeat to Palace is a perfect example – Guardiola could only look down as they resorted to launching crosses into the penalty area when his usually hypnotic midfielders were out of ideas.
They haven’t had anyone consistently scoring sloppy goals in sloppy games.
The champions came down from two goals to win thanks to his excellent play in the second half
Haaland’s first header after Phil Foden’s cross into good territory for a goalscorer to attack provided clear evidence that this is what City have been missing.
No one would have been in that spot last season. Even if they were, no one would have controlled their run to react to different phases of the game like Haaland did, manipulating his angles to generate head force.
Guardiola knows that, of course, which is why City have spent the past two years trying to sign Sergio Aguero’s replacement. Working with false nines or midfielders up front was not a choice. “We are completely in love with him,” Guardiola said. “It’s not just the goals, it’s how happy he is. I see his behavior and his body language. He’s always right.’
There seems to be a boyish wonder to the celebrations of Haaland, who races to all corners of the ground in frenzied excitement. That’s now six Premier League goals in four games, one every 54 minutes.
His third, bulldozing Joel Ward before deftly cornering in full flight, was the trademark Haaland.
Pep Guardiola’s side are second in the league behind Arsenal after three wins and one draw
However, City believes there is much more to come. They want to involve him more in the game, although that requires more cohesion as a team.
“We understand that sometimes people doubt him, but we know the player he is and where he comes from,” said Rodri. “He needs three touches to score a goal, he’s an incredible player.
“He still has to adapt. It’s hard in that position because we’re used to playing with a false nine that moves a lot and now we have him as a reference that doesn’t move too much.
“His natural talent makes all the difference, but he has to try harder to be involved in the game – when to come, when to drop, when to go to space.
Targeting City’s new £51m star has become the primary goal for Man City’s playmakers
“It’s normal, we’ve only been together for a month and hope he gets better in the rest of the season.”
Rodri is now part of the club’s five-man leadership group and there will have been words at half time that City conceded more goals from set pieces in the first half than in all of last season.
This was also the fourth time in six games that they left two goals.
“We were lucky, but tomorrow we may not be lucky and we will drop points,” Guardiola said. But here came another rousing comeback from a team that has so often been labeled too mechanical and too boring to truly admire.
He has already scored six Premier League goals and tops the division charts
Honorable mentions go to lively substitute Julian Alvarez and Bernardo Silva, whose missed goal turned the game around. Shifted to the right, Silva’s jingling runs opened up an exhausting palace. A good thing for City that Barcelona did not throw the money in the trash.
“What amazes me about Bernardo is that when the game goes wrong, he takes a step forward, he likes to play in this situation,” added Guardiola. “He’s comfortable with it.
“Some players might step back and he may step forward. That is why he is irreplaceable to us in many ways.’