ON THE eve of this match, Pep Guardiola compared Erling Haaland to Lionel Messi.
The Manchester City boss was referring to his Norwegian striker’s relentless mentality and appetite for goals, rather than the Argetinian’s subtle mastery of a football.
Erling Haaland chipped in his record-breaking goalCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun10Manchester City have now scored 1,000 goals under Pep GuardiolaCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Haaland was given a guard of honour after full-timeCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Yet when his latest record-breaking goal arrived, Haaland finished with a glorious deftness of touch which spoke of the little Argentine maestro himself.
This saucy little chip was Haaland’s 35th Premier League goal of the season – taking him clear of Alan Shearer and Andy Cole as the highest scorer in a single campaign in this competition’s 31-year history.
It was certainly not a typical Haaland goal but then this insatiable Norseman scores all sorts of goals.
And this is a 22-year-old rookie we are talking about. As his boss said, he is only likely to get better.
After Nathan Ake had nodded City in front early in the second half, Haaland’s strike ensured that City would head back to the top of the Premier League, with a game in hand on challengers Arsenal.
So in summary, and forgive me if you’ve read this before, Haaland scored, Haaland broke a record, City won and they’re heading for a fifth title in six years.
Only this time their giant forward left the pitch running through a classy guard of honour from his team-mates and the City coaching staff after full-time.
This was their ninth straight league win and their 19th unbeaten match in all competitions.
They were nowhere near their best yet far too good for a patched-up, unambitious West Ham – who have lost three in a row and are not yet quite safe.
Still, Guardiola has a tough week ahead of him in his quest for the Treble.
He must go head-to-head with Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, who has four European Cups as a boss, and Sam Allardyce, who thinks he should have four European Cups.
Leeds visit the Etihad on Saturday and Big Sam is back, having assured us he is on the same level as Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp – so there is still hope for Arsenal.
With Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Nayef Aguerd all laid low by a sickness bug and hundreds of empty seats in the away end, it didn’t appear that the Hammers had travelled with much hope.
Although, the away allocation had been sold out before this fixture was switched from the weekend to midweek due to City’s Cup commitments.
Guardiola had made the unusual decision to bench Ederson and give his German back-up keeper Stefan Ortega a Premier League debut.
And in the unfamiliar spring sunshine, the first 25 minutes was played out at testimonial pace, the Etihad in soporific mood and Moyes happy to keep the tempo, and the defensive block, low.
City fashioned a couple of chances – a Riyad Mahrez shot was pushed wide by Lukasz Fabianski and a Jack Grealish centre found Haaland arriving late at the far post but he headed high and wide.
A long throw caught City dozing and Jarrod Bowen nipped in ahead of Ake for an angled shot which Ortega saved with his feet.
Suddenly, City cranked up a couple of gears and struck the woodwork twice in as many minutes.
Grealish, very much City’s make-it-happen man in the absence of the injured Kevin De Bruyne, received a clever switch-pass from John Stones and shot against the outside of the near post.
Then, when Haaland dropped deep and released Rodri with a neat pass, the Spanish midfielder drilled against the inside of the far post and the ball rolled to safety.
All in all, though, City were not moving the ball quick enough and nor were their minds whirring as rapidly as usual.
Having contained City so well, Moyes will have been furious with the way West Ham conceded within five minutes of the restart.
Flynn Downes, deputising for Rice, hacked down Grealish and was booked.
No6 Nathan Ake headed in the opener five minutes after the breakCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Haaland beamed from ear to ear after scoring Premier League finish No35Credit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Phil Foden volleyed in for 3-0 in the closing minutesCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Mahrez floated the resulting free-kick to the back post, where Ake was left unmarked to nod home.
The Dutchman, who has made the left-back spot his own during the second half of the season, had missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury.
Yet the breakthrough didn’t make any difference to the atmosphere nor City’s performance levels.
West Ham forced a string of corners and as the stadium fell into near-silence, Guardiola – perhaps sensing some of that ‘Happy Flowers’ mentality – indulged in a spot of tetchy cheerleading.
All that changed when a careless West Ham pass was snapped up by Grealish who advanced and released the Viking with a cute through-ball.
Haaland timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap, and he scored with a deft pitching wedge of a shot, which Fabianski could only help on its way.
The Etihad erupted, this was the moment they had turned up expecting to see.
Then it all became extremely humdrum and routine again.
Soon, a corner was headed half-clear by Lucas Pacqueta but fell to sub Phil Foden, whose volley took a horrible deflection off Emerson Palmieri and gave Fabianski no chance.
It was the 1,000th goal City had scored in all competitions – and Haaland has more than five per cent of them already.
West Ham were without three key players due to illnessCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Guardiola looked concerned during a flat first halfCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
John Stones celebrated going back on top of the tableCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Kevin De Bruyne was at the Etihad but not involved