How long before Erling Haaland gets a statue outside the Etihad?
Manchester City welcomed back one of their greatest-ever players as Vincent Kompany brought his hugely impressive Burnley side for an FA Cup quarter-final. The former centre-back had one of the best views in the house to watch one of the greatest players world football has seen take the game away from the Championship side and continue an absurdly good season.
Parts of Greater Manchester were hit with eight inches of snow last week and the clocks are yet to go forward, but Erling Haaland has scored 42 goals. Three here added to his penalty at Palace last Saturday and his five against Leipzig on Tuesday to end a relatively lean spell in front of goal with a bonanza.
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Haaland’s ambition to conquer all of Europe means he is unlikely to stick around at the Etihad for as long as the three legends that are portrayed in galvanised steel outside the East Stand, although he has shown that he can achieve a hell of a lot in no time at all. The No.9 already has more goals than any City player has ever scored in a single campaign and he could have 18 games to improve that.
Here, he took less than three minutes to take the game away from a Burnley side that had caused City real problems in the opening half-hour. Just as Kompany and his team were beginning to flex their muscles, they were 2-0 down.
Guardiola spoke in the programme notes of how City have missed Kompany, and they have. There is a reason there is a statue of him outside the stadium, and his departure in 2019 cost the Blues an exceptional centre-back and an even better captain.
Part of the reason they have been able to move on, though, is because Ruben Dias has been so good since his £64m move from Benfica. City were unbeaten in nine games before this weekend and that run coincided exactly with Dias coming back into the side.
City’s manager made seven changes from the side that beat Leipzig 7-0 but there was never any doubt that Dias would keep his place – he is irreplaceable in the team at the minute. He showed why with a crucial tackle on Nathan Tella in the box in the 23rd minute after the lively Burnley forward had been played through by Ian Maatsen.
The visitors had been on top, and while Stefan Ortega had been impressive with his long passing his shorter balls left a lot more to be desired. Rico Lewis gave him quite the stare after bailing him out as City battled for supremacy.
Burnley, so regularly thrashed 5-0 here in previous years, could be pretty confident that there would not be a repeat. However, that did not take Haaland into account.
It was a long kick from the keeper that did the trick. Just as he had done in midweek, Haaland won the header down and then was alive to the second ball, perfectly slid through by Julian Alvarez, to defuse the tension for City.
Seconds later, Haaland swept home Phil Foden’s cross and all of Burnley’s good work was undone. A tricky cup tie for the Blues had turned into another episode of The Haaland Show.
This is precisely what he is here for. Starting with the penalty at Palace last Saturday, he has won three matches for City in three different competitions with nine goals in 145 minutes of football – one every 16 minutes on average – that would seem unbelievable if it had not all been televised in high definition.
The hat-trick felt inevitable, and lived up to his midweek mantle handed to him by Jack Grealish of being an ‘absolute ball magnet’. Foden’s shot cannoned back off the post and who was there to turn in the rebound but that bloke who rival fans have been crying is a ‘tap-in merchant’.
Soon after, that was Haaland’s day done – no opportunity to go for the double hat-trick. The goals did not stop there though, with Julian Alvarez bagging a brace and Cole Palmer coming off the bench to add to Burnley’s misery.
With Haaland off the pitch, these goals celebrated the terrific team performance that City had put on. Foden, De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez all played brilliantly to break through Burnley’s resistance again and again, creating some lovely team goals.
And at the back, Ortega and his defenders were alert enough to secure a fifth successive clean sheet. Aymeric Laporte and Kyle Walker were both back in the team after recent absences and improved their chances of more starts going forward.
As the City fans sang, Wembley now beckons next month. The Blues are two matches away from a trophy and while there is potential difficulty in the fact that the match will come a few days after their Champions League match at Bayern Munich in the second leg of their quarter-final, City are in the form where they will feel nobody.
It is now 10 games unbeaten as they head off for international duty. Those games have produced eight wins and two draws, with an aggregate score of 31-5; Haaland only has 11 of the 31 but has supercharged the momentum of the team in the last eight days; Kompany made a beeline for him at full-time for a big embrace, recognising the game-changing impact he had had.
More important than the form is what it has done for City, setting them up to challenge hard for three competitions when they return in April. With Haaland in this form, there is no reason why they will not fancy their chances of multiple trophies this season.
If he can make his goal record even more ludicrous between now and the end of the campaign and lead City to glory, that statue idea may get a little less crazy.