Erling Haaland may have been a bargain even at £100m but to cost Manchester City just north of £50m is a faintly ridiculous price in the definitely ridiculous inflated transfer market. The No 9 scored a scintillating 19-minute hat-trick which featured the equaliser and the goals that sealed victory as Pep Guardiola’s champions came from two behind for a fourth time in the last six competitive games.
The Norwegian’s third was greeted by a Guardiola jig of jubilation and delirium from a home crowd witnessing Haaland’s first ever City strikes at the Etihad and crowned a superb fightback began after Bernardo Silva had led a second half charge by pulling one back.
Before this Crystal Palace had actually beaten Ederson for a third time – to follow John Stones’s own-goal and Joachim Anderson’s header. The City goalkeeper rolled the ball straight to Jordan Ayew via a touch from Odsonne Édouard and Ayew found the net. However, referee Darren England awarded a foul – maybe against high leg from Édouard – but VAR, at least, might have intervened as it appeared legitimate.
While no Palace players complained, after three minutes they had been ecstatic when Eberechi Eze dropped a free-kick into the area that ricocheted off Kevin De Bruyne, Kyle Walker and Stones before going in. Guardiola responded with a shake of the head. His team’s riposte was a phase of keep-ball that featured Walker as an inverted full-back and Haaland leaping to misdirect a header from a corner.
City had their foot on the gas. Referee England waved away a handball shout in Palace’s area, then João Cancelo found Riyad Mahrez who nodded back towards Haaland who knocked Marc Guéhi over in front of goal. The referee did award a foul for this and home boos ensued as Palace’s goalkeeper took his time over the restart.
When his team took the next one they struck again making it two goals from two Eze set-pieces: the No 10 swung in a corner from the right and Walker and Haaland each allowed Andersen to rise freely to head in.
At this stage, City were toothless and required cooler heads than the one Haaland showed when booting Andersen’s.
Wilfried Zaha’s absence from Vieira’s team-sheet due to a knee problem had ruled out a repeat act of him as the Palace wrecking-ball that he proved in last season’s 2-0 victory here when the forward scored the opener, caused Aymeric Laporte to be sent off, and engineered the second.
Eze, though, was a willing deputy, troubling City’s backline when Palace used the same breakaway tactics. Mahrez masterminded breaks in the opposite direction when trying to force the contest City’s way. The Algerian turned on extra thrust, skipped past Tyrick Mitchell, and crossed from the right: Vicente Guaita stuck a glove on the ball and it eluded everyone in blue around him.
Within eight minutes of the restart, Silva, who collected a sweeping Rodri pass, jinked inside with Guéhi unable to intervene, and on shooting saw Jeffrey Schlupp turn away and in went City’s first via Palace’s No 15.
The home crowd had stayed with their side all afternoon and their first reward was followed by the sight of further Silva wizardry as he bamboozled Eze, Guéhi and Schlupp before aiming marginally wide. The Portuguese, inevitably, was involved when City did equalise. After another bob-and-weave he tapped to an overlapping De Bruyne who fashioned an arcing ball which Julián Álvaraz, just on as a replacement, flicked to Phil Foden. The chip on to Haaland’s forehead was as perfect as the finish.
Foden, in one of Guardiola’s always-intriguing tactical moves, was now at left wing-back in place of Cancelo, with De Bruyne filling the right-side berth. Haaland’s second, which put City 3-2 up, finished a pinball-like sequence that twice involved Silva and a scuffed Stones effort that allowed the lethal 22-year-old to prod home.
When Haaland came off towards the end he deserved the ovation he received.