Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Erling Haaland brilliant in debut, Ilkay Gundogan dazzles as Man City open season with dominant win at West Ham

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Haaland makes dream start in Premier League debut

Erling Haaland has huge pressure on his shoulders at Manchester City this season, meaning he had to make a big impact as quickly as possible following his £51 million transfer from Borussia Dortmund. In the end, scoring twice on his Premier League debut wasn’t a bad way to introduce himself.

While Haaland’s fee is likely to be regarded as a bargain in the modern game, the 22-year-old still has to prove he is as good as his reputation suggests, and that is where the pressure will largely come from. And after failing to score — while missing some easy chances — in the Community Shield defeat against Liverpool last week, a failure to score against West Ham would have only intensified the expectancy. But Haaland scored both goals as City made a winning start to the defence of their title and their star signing showed that he will be a huge asset to Pep Guardiola’s team.

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His first was from the penalty spot after his clever run behind the Hammers’ defence was picked out by Ilkay Gundogan. After showing impressive pace to beat Hammers substitute goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to the ball and earn the penalty, Haaland sent him the wrong way from the spot with a precise penalty that nestled in the corner of the net. Meanwhile, his second was a classic striker’s goal, one that underlined his pace, movement and nerveless ability to beat a keeper in a one-on-one situation. Racing on to Kevin De Bruyne’s defence-splitting pass, Haaland was able to open his body up and beat Areola with a left-footed shot into the far corner that sealed City’s win.

Haaland was signed to make the difference in the big games for City and score at will in the others. It’s fair to say he is already living up to the job description.

Haaland’s goals marked a fine performance by the star striker and showed just why Man City were excited for him to arrive this summer. Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images
An ominous sign for rest of Premier League

Manchester City lost their opening game of last season with a 1-0 defeat in London at Tottenham, but 12 months on, they returned to the capital and started with a flawless win at West Ham that will already have their rivals worrying about how to keep pace with Pep Guardiola’s team.

Last season’s false start didn’t make a difference to the outcome of the title race, with City finishing ahead of Liverpool on the final day, but Guardiola’s team were slow out of the blocks, winning just four of their first seven games. If their slick performance against West Ham is a gauge of what is to come, however, the chasing pack will have to sprint just to keep up.

There was certainly no rust in the win at the London Stadium. Erling Haaland’s two goals got the new signing off the mark, and he has added greater potency to a team that already scored plenty. Kevin De Bruyne was outstanding and Ruben Dias was imposing at the back. In terms of dominating the game, there were times when City had more than 75% of possession, and this was against a West Ham team that almost clinched a top-six finish last season. It was no easy start for City, but they made it look effortless.

If they can blow West Ham away with such ease, the majority of the Premier League don’t stand a chance.

West Ham will worry about Rice until deadline day

West Ham have spent over £100 million on new signings so far this summer, but their most important piece of business has been keeping Declan Rice — for now, at least.

The 23-year-old, named club captain following Mark Noble’s retirement, had an outstanding season for the Hammers as they reached the Europa League semifinals last term, and he was once again the key man for David Moyes’ team against City. Rice is the definition of an all-action midfielder, and despite the searing heat on the opening weekend, he was still working tirelessly from box-to-box, winning tackles and making crucial interceptions.

But although he remains a West Ham player, there is still time for a bigger, wealthier club to make a move for the England international this month, and there are two in particular — Chelsea and Manchester United — who have been long-term admirers of Rice and who both still need midfield reinforcements. With two years left to run on his contract, West Ham may have to offload Rice next summer if he fails to agree a new deal, but if a big offer comes in before the Aug. 31 transfer deadline, it could be tempting for both West Ham and Rice to make the move happen. On the evidence of his performance against City, Rice would instantly improve United or Chelsea.

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