Erling Haaland scored twice as Manchester City cruised to a 5-0 Champions League victory over FC Copenhagen at the Etihad Stadium.
The Norwegian netted with his first touch of the game and doubled the lead inside the first half for his 19th goal in just 12 appearances for the club.
An own goal by David Khocholava and a Riyad Mahrez penalty heaped further misery on the Danes in a one-sided game before Julian Alvarez made it five late on with his first Champions League goal after fine work by Jack Grealish. It was that easy for City.
Haaland was substituted at half-time with the match already won and Pep Guardiola’s side progressing serenely into the knockout stages having now picked up nine points from their first three games. They top Group G, eight points clear of Sevilla in third place.
How Haaland blew Copenhagen away
Going into the seventh minute of the game, Copenhagen could not have kept Haaland quieter. He had yet to touch the ball. But Joao Cancelo’s cross was deflected into his path and he lashed the shot right-footed beyond Kamil Grabara and into the net.
The chances kept coming for City but the away side were grateful when they fell to others. Grealish had a couple of shots saved, while Ilkay Gundogan was denied well by Grabara. The problems came when the ball fell to the most lethal finisher in the land.
That is what happened when the goalkeeper could only parry Sergio Gomez’s shot into his path and Haaland measured the ball into the vacant net. The only man who could deny him his hat-trick was Guardiola – hooking him in favour of Cole Palmer at the interval.
Pep Guardiola made five changes to the team that thrashed Manchester United, resting Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne as well as three of his back four. In came Aymeric Laporte for his first start of the season alongside Ruben Dias, Sergio Gomez, Riyad Mahrez and Julian Alvarez.
By that stage, City were three up thanks to a double-deflected Gomez shot that was diverted in by Khocholava. Even Haaland’s removal did not stop the scoring. Aymeric Laporte was pulled down in the box and Mahrez scored his first of the season from the spot.
Copenhagen did go close a couple of times at the other end, but a driving run by Grealish – one of many in a magnificent display – found Mahrez and his centre was tapped home by Alvarez. A useful reminder that the Argentine can take on that striker role too.
Whether there is anybody in the world who can do it quite as well as Haaland is another matter.
Analysis: Haaland continues to astonish
It was the 35th minute of the match and you had to concentrate to see it. Haaland laid the ball off and turned. There were no cheers but that was it – his second pass of the night. Incredibly, this scoring phenomenon already had his second goal of the night by then.
It is a complete subversion of Guardiola’s philosophy. A coach who has built his success on a passing game now boasts the world’s most formidable forward and yet he hardly passes the ball at all. He hardly touches it at all. Eleven touches against Copenhagen. Four of them shots.
Domestically, we are already reaching beyond the Premier League for comparisons. Alan Shearer and Andy Cole’s record of 34 goals in a single season looks so certain to go that it is Dixie Dean’s tally of 60 league goals almost a century ago that is the total to beat now.
Manchester City’s Erling Haaland has scored 28 goals in 22 UEFA Champions League appearances for a goals-per-game record of 1.27; there are 98 teams with a worse goals-per-game record in the competition.
Beyond our shores, Lionel Messi’s 73-goal season in all competitions for Barcelona is a marker of note. Such targets can no longer be seen as fanciful. Haaland did not expend much energy against Copenhagen. Guardiola might decide to reassess the need to rest him.
He had talked of rotation but Haaland has started every one of City’s 12 games so far and the postponed midweek fixture against Arsenal later this month lightens the load a little. If rested in Copenhagen, he can focus on the Premier League for much of October.
With Norway not at the World Cup, Haaland’s recuperation period can come then. How many more defences will have been on the receiving end by that stage? This does not feel like a hot streak, just the inevitable result of ice-cold finishing and a talent for the ages.
Guardiola denies Haaland release clause
In the press conference after the game, Guardiola was asked about reports in Spain suggesting there is a specific release clause in Haaland’s contract that would allow him to leave for Real Madrid.
“It is not true. He has not got a release clause for Real Madrid or any other team. It is not true, that is all I can say. The rumours, people talk, we cannot control it. Always we must worry about what we can control.
“He adapted really well and I have the feeling that he is incredibly happy here. We will try, with all the people who want to stay here, to make them happy. That is the most important thing.
“In the end, what is going to happen in the future, nobody knows. What is important is that he is settled perfectly here, he is happy and he is incredibly loved by everyone. This is the most important thing.”
Walker injury scare ahead of the World Cup
Kyle Walker was missing from the squad for Manchester City and Guardiola confirmed that the full-back’s injury could keep him out for some time.
“It will be for a while. I don’t know exactly but weeks. It is something abdominal. It will be a while out. I don’t know how long. Maybe the club will make a statement the next day, I don’t know exactly, but he will be out for a while.”
With the World Cup just next month, Guardiola was asked to clarify whether the England international would be fit for the tournament in Qatar. “I don’t know,” he replied.
“I cannot say anything else. I don’t know. Kyle will be a little bit out. We will see with the statement. I am not a doctor. Hopefully, he can get it, of course. Like Kalvin [Phillips], I know how important the World Cup is for the players. But honestly I do not know right now.”
‘Grealish the standout player for perfect City’
Andy Hinchcliffe on Soccer Special:
“Man City outclassed Copenhagen. We expected City to win, win big and they did that. Individually and collectively, the players approached it brilliantly, and Jack Grealish stood out.
“Every time he got the ball, he looked to be positive and he seems to be playing with great confidence. He’s playing in a position where Pep Guardiola wants him. He’s a great ball carrier, he can commit defenders, create chances, and he did all that against Copenhagen.
“You have to give Man City a lot of credit for how they approached the game. They were the better side, of course, but the way they approached it was perfect.”
Manchester City return to Premier League action on Saturday as they host Southampton at 3pm, with Guardiola’s side then travelling to FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.