The Manchester City striker’s double propelled the champions to the top of the Premier League with a tenacious 2-0 victory over Everton on Saturday. Erling Haaland scored for the first time since November.
In a tense Etihad Stadium, Pep Guardiola’s team was significantly below their best as they struggled to overcome resolute Everton.However, Haaland scored twice in the latter half of the game to return to the scoresheet for the first time since his near two-month layoff due to a foot injury.
These were the Norwegian player’s first goals in the Premier League since he scored against Liverpool on November 25, and his first goals across five games across all competitions since he scored in the Champions League against Leipzig on November 28.
For the first time since November 24, City is back atop the standings, although Liverpool, who trail in second place by one point, may climb back to the top if they defeat lowly Burnley at Anfield later on Saturday.
Although Guardiola’s team has won their past ten games in all competitions, the Spanish manager may be a little alarmed by the laborious approach they took to the assignment against Everton.
Although City has won their past 22 league games at the Etihad, they were not without difficulty from Everton, who now sits in third place.
Everton hasn’t defeated City since 2017, but Guardiola had warned his players not to let their guard down after a 1-1 draw with the Merseysiders the previous season, which left him with terrible memories.
City monopolised over 80 percent of the possession in the first half an hour, they found it impossible to prise open Everton’s massed defence.
Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden had shots blocked as Everton threw themselves into tackles with abandon.
Haaland stretched to head over from Jeremy Doku’s cross when Foden was lurking in a more dangerous position behind the striker.
Haaland to the rescue
Guardiola cut an anxious figure on the touchline, constantly gesticulating towards his players in a bid to get them to pass quicker and with more precision.
Everton keeper Jordan Pickford raced off his line to beat Matheus Nunes to the ball right on the edge of the area.
There was a warning for City when Jack Harrison blasted over from Ashley Young’s cross.
When the ball dropped kindly for Manuel Akanji inside the Everton area, the City defender looked certain to break the deadlock, but James Tarkowski made a last-ditch block as VAR ignored the hosts’ appeals for handball.
It was the first time City had failed to have a shot on target in the first half of a home league game since August 2022.
As City’s angst mounted, Rodri’s woeful long-range strike sailed into the stands to the sound of frustrated groans from home fans.
Guardiola had seen enough of City’s struggles and sent on Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker early in the second half.
City belatedly found some rhythm and their longest wait for a shot on target in a league game since September 2021 finally ended in the 71st minute.
Everton made a hash of clearing a corner and the ball broke for Haaland, whose fierce strike deflected in off Pickford’s leg to spark wild celebrations from the Norwegian and his relieved team-mates.
Guardiola this week said you don’t need a Harvard education to understand the threat posed by Haaland and De Bruyne.
Everton clearly hadn’t studied hard enough on that subject as De Bruyne’s precise pass sent Haaland motoring towards goal.
Over-powering Jarrad Branthwaite, Haaland left the Everton defender flailing on the turf as he sprinted clear to slot a cool finish past Pickford as he marked his 50th Premier League start in style.