Two months have passed since he last kicked a competitive ball but Erling Haaland has not lost his finishing touch. The rest of the Premier League might be f**ked. Again.
It was a classic case of ‘same sh*t, different season’ at Turf Moor as Vincent Kompany’s Burnley and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City presented us with the 2023/24 Premier League curtain-raiser.
The only difference is how Burnley approached the game in comparison to their last Premier League fixture. Kompany worked his magic – the wizardry he learned from Friday’s opposing manager – very quickly after replacing Mike Jackson in June 2022 and earned the Clarets promotion back to Our League at the first time of asking thanks to a free-flowing, exciting approach.
This is not the Burnley we know and don’t love. But unfortunately for them, they were at home to the Treble winners, not Preston North End. There was some of the old Burnley on show, at least, with Anass Zaroury receiving a late red card for a nasty challenge on Kyle Walker.
A newly promoted team will aim to play their way and impose their philosophy on the league, but you have to be street-smart. Going toe to toe with Manchester City is not an option. It might be refreshing – especially as it is Burnley – but is naive and will only end one way.
Friday’s match went exactly as everyone with half a brain expected. Burnley showed what they were about in fits and starts and despite going 1-0 down before the fourth minute started the game very brightly. By the halfway point of the opening half, City were fully in their groove and kept the ball with ease for the rest of the game as some of Burnley’s old Sean Dyche-like rigidness came out. They didn’t have a choice, to be fair.
Now, this is not to say all promoted teams should come up and play hoof ball and park the bus; far from it. Burnley didn’t lie down and let Manchester City pin them into their own box from the first minute, even unsettling them with their press on the odd occasion. But it has to be emphasised that the Clarets were never winning by trying to beat the Cityzens at their own game.
Using hindsight, we can say they were never winning with Erling Haaland on the pitch. Everyone ran out of superlatives to describe the Norwegian striker a few months into his Manchester City career and unfortunately for the Premier League, he has not lost his scoring touch over the summer.
His first goal was an instinctive, clinical, smart finish which Burnley new boy James Trafford did not stand a chance of saving. As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, the country collectively said something along the lines of, ‘Ah sh*t, here we go again’. Haaland’s left-footed strike is exactly what he is about but his second goal was picturesque.
After a competitive start, City were controlling proceedings, knocking the ball around with ease and taking their time to find a gap in the Burnley set-up. A defence-splitting pass from Phil Foden found Kyle Walker, who cut it back for Julian Alvarez, who set Haaland up perfectly to curl the ball onto the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net.
2-0 after 36 minutes courtesy of a Haaland brace meant it was already game over. The ex-Borussia Dortmund striker had a grand total of nine touches by the 39th minute, which was the second-fewest of the game at the time, showing there has been no tactical tweak from Guardiola in that respect. And why the hell would there have been?
Before the game, Kompany said Friday night would be his side’s worst performance of the season and it is fair to say they performed relatively well given the level of their opponents. A positive Kompany will take out of the game is his new No. 1 Trafford, who made the first top-flight appearance of his career after helping England Under-21s become European champions earlier this summer.
Trafford could not do anything about both Haaland goals, looked very safe and confident between the sticks, and even if he was on the losing side, showed he has what it takes to make the step up from being a Young Lion to one of the Three Lions.
Unfortunately for us, Burnley, Trafford and Kompany, the only narrative coming out of this game is how much of a joke Erling Haaland is. That and another injury to Kevin De Bruyne, with questions potentially going to be asked about his long-term future in the game. At the age of 32, should we be worried that the Belgian playmaker will be off and on the injury table until he hangs up his boots? One thing that is for certain is that the Premier League champions will accelerate their pursuit of West Ham’s Lucas Paqueta if De Bruyne’s latest setback is a serious one.
Burnley will not change their ways, which could be their downfall, while City will reap the rewards of consistently giving Haaland the ball inside the penalty box. The Nordic robot is not slowing down, which is awful news for Arsenal, Manchester United, and anyone else who dares to try and dethrone Pep Guardiola and his winning machine.