Erling Haaland lays down the goalscoring gauntlet for just one player: himself in future seasons
If it had the air of a unique occasion for an icon of Manchester City’s past, it was just business as usual their current idol. Vincent Kompany made his first competitive return to the Etihad Stadium since his seminal, sensational goal against Leicester in 2019 and his sudden exit, to the ground with his statue outside and to the club he helped turn into relentless winners.
And then, with precious little romance and typical ruthlessness, Erling Haaland condemned City’s greatest captain to his heaviest defeat as Burnley manager. For the Clarets, who lost 5-0 at the Etihad four times under Sean Dyche, it was a still heavier beating.
Kompany’s last act as a City player, the day before he announced his departure, was to lift the FA Cup. With Pep Guardiola’s side in the semi-finals for the fifth time in six seasons, Ilkay Gundogan may join him in the select group of their FA Cup-winning skippers.
Haaland had broken a 94-year-old record for most goals in a season for City without finding the net in the FA Cup – in mitigation, he had only previously played once in the competition – but he duly scored his sixth hat-trick of the campaign and second in four days.
With 42 goals before the end of March, the Norwegian seems well on the way to setting the kind of marker only one player could rival in the future: himself in subsequent seasons.
He has eight goals in his last two games alone; that Leipzig, title contenders in the Bundesliga, conceded five to him suggests Burnley did well in comparison. The competitor in Kompany said he would have relished the challenge of facing Haaland. His centre-backs may not have shared those sentiments and were probably relieved when Guardiola substituted his top scorer with half an hour to go.
Burnley have acquired a reputation as the City of the Championship as they seek to pass their way to promotion. Guardiola’s influence has rubbed off on Kompany. And yet, if the scoreline suggested the master outwitted the apprentice, the more prosaic reality may just be that the senior man had Haaland. He transformed the tie with two goals in four minutes. By the second half, when they were rampant, it felt irrelevant that City had been unimpressive for the first half hour. Burnley had limited them to one shot, and even that was not on target.
But goalscorers change matches. Kompany played with the most prolific in City’s history, in Sergio Aguero, but Haaland is striking at a rate that even the Argentinian could not manage. His 42 goals have come in just 37 outings.
The first, and most important, against Burnley came from an unconventional one-two. City beat the Clarets’ press as Stefan Ortega launched a long ball which Haaland headed down to Julian Alvarez. The then span and raced on to the return ball, slotting his shot past Bailey Peacock-Farrell. As Leipzig can testify, he can turn one into two quickly and a supremely calm finish from Phil Foden’s centre followed soon after. His third came from the rebound after Foden hit the post.
Alvarez tapped in the fourth from Kevin de Bruyne’s low centre and, two days after signing a new contract, doubled his tally after a sharp turn left defender Ameen Al-Dakhil on his backside. The names indicated Guardiola showed Kompany no mercy. He retained Haaland and De Bruyne while his seven changes included turning to the World Cup-winning striker Alvarez, plus the generational talent Foden, who was involved in three goals.
The exception to the rule among the goalscorers was the substitute Cole Palmer, who was left with a simple finish after goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell parried Foden’s cross. By then it felt a footnote that the day’s first save came from Ortega, denying Lyle Foster.
It formed part of a bright beginning from the visitors, after a moment to savour for their manager. Kompany, whose shock departure as a player denied the City fans a chance to say farewell, emerged to take the applause of all four stands and to hug Guardiola. Then he took up a touchline vigil which may have grown increasingly painful; perhaps unsurprisingly, and the realist in Kompany had spoken of the vast gulf between the top of the Premier League and the Championship summit.
Even as a top-flight team, Burnley tended to struggle against City. The aggregate score in their last 11 meetings now stands at 40-1. Dyche’s brand of football rarely proved successful against City. Kompany’s Burnley have another ethos. They tried to press high, man-marked in midfield and induced errors. None of which mattered when Haaland got going. As a player, Kompany could enjoy the times City scored six, especially in a Manchester derby. As a manager, he had rather less to celebrate.