Erling Haaland is inevitable. That, at least, is how it felt in Seville, and how it is starting to feel in stadiums all over the place. Pep Guardiola had insisted that it is not just about the Norwegian and that if Manchester City don’t play well they will not win. Here, they did play well – reflected in Ederson’s first save, an easy one, not arriving until the 80th minute – they did win, and he did score. Well, of course. Twice, in fact.
The man who was running at a goal every 44 minutes got two more in 69 en route to a 4-0 win as another Champions League campaign opens with the demand that it ends with the trophy. “I love this routine, and it’s a routine after every game, talking about him and his goals,” Guardiola said. “He’s always there, always. There’s always the feeling that he can score more goals.”
That this was expected should not eclipse the quality, even as Guardiola admitted that it didn’t always feel like a 4-0. For Sevilla, certainly, there was a sense that this was always going to happen. “And to cap it all off, Man City,” one headline had said beforehand. Sevilla came into this in a crisis, suffering their worst start to a season in 41 years. The last thing they wanted was Guardiola’s team turning up: the last thing they wanted was him.
The last time they had faced him, Haaland scored four of Dortmund’s five in a 5-4 aggregate victory. That night in this stadium, you could hear the fear every time he got up and running, the intake of breath audible, the sound of boot against ball a boom echoing around. It had been empty then, which may have exaggerated that feeling; it was not empty now but the net result was much the same.
For all their problems, the home fans raised the roof. There was a roar when Papu Gómez produced an early nutmeg and they tried to carry their team through the crisis. By the end, though, they were chanting for the president to resign. Sevilla’s start was bright. It was also brief, the nervousness inside their area on 11 minutes an indication that they already realised that this would be a long night.*
City settled into control, Jack Grealish hitting the side-netting. When Haaland accelerated from deep, Sevilla had a familiar feeling, a flash of deja vu, backing off as that stampede started.
Twice Kevin De Bruyne struck over. Marcos Acuña nicked one off Phil Foden’s toe. It was relentless, in its own way: not intense as such, and not a storm, but insistent. And then the goal came, which felt obvious – as much in execution as expectation.
A move that has been seen a thousand times before and might be seen a thousand more, saw Foden roll that little diagonal pass to one side of the full-back.
De Bruyne went past him on the other to collect and pulled across the six-yard box. Diving in, leg out, was Haaland. “He has that innate instinct to be in the right place at the right moment: not a second too soon, not a second too late,” Guardiola said.
Whistles from Sevilla’s fans followed soon, frustrated at City keeping the ball. That they were reaching for something, anything, was reflected by the roar that met the first corner and the first shot, Acuña’s effort going way wide but still getting an “huuy”. It was louder still when Jesús Navas – once of Manchester City – Thomas Delaney and Gómez combined neatly, a sign that they might play a bit after all.
When Sevilla pressed there was a feeling of life, rebellion, and the fans pushed them harder and higher. But that insistence also felt like it might be inviting them into a trap and the second half brought wider spaces, more opportunities and more goals for City. De Bruyne, clear of the defence, was denied by Bono, Haaland might have converted a header and João Cancelo scuffed wide before Rodri bent a shot over. And then came the second, just as Sevilla stepped up. “We scored when they were at their best,” Guardiola conceded.
City found room to run, Cancelo found Foden who shifted one way and back, beyond Nemanja Gudelj and finished neatly. A glorious clipped De Bruyne pass, looping and spinning to the right, then started a move that ended with City walking the ball in. The flag up, that didn’t count, but what came next did. Foden was in this time and although Bono saved, Haaland was there, right place, right time, to roll home.
He was withdrawn soon after. His work here was done, another destruction complete. City’s though was not, Rúben Dias turning in the fourth in added time.