Crystal Palace had, at half-time, seemed destined to extend their points tally at the Etihad over the last five seasons to 10. Two goals clear and having not conceded a shot on target, Patrick Vieira looked set to repeat the same trick as last year.
But 39 minutes later, Pep Guardiola was aggressively pounding the chest of Haaland after allowing his striker a standing ovation.
Erling Haaland scored his first hat-trick for Man City to inspire a 4-2 win against Crystal Palace
He had his hat-trick and deserved the reception with the contest done. Three goals from 18 touches, for those who like to keep count.
A force of nature, Haaland can do that to anybody, as many more will find out. Match balls will flow and he will alter bigger games than this.
Yet this particular challenge is precisely why City paid £51million for him this summer. For the awkward afternoons when they are average, against stubborn opposition who have their noses in front.
‘These games are why I’m here, to turn things around when there are difficult times,’ Haaland said.
In days gone by — and last October’s 2-0 home defeat by Palace is a perfect example – Guardiola could only watch on his haunches as they resorted to launching crosses into the box, his usually mesmeric midfielders running out of ideas.
They have had nobody to consistently score scrappy goals in scrappy matches.
The champions came from two goals down to win thanks to his superb second-half display
Haaland’s first, a header after Phil Foden’s cross into a good area for a goalscorer to attack, provided clear evidence that this is what City have been missing.
Nobody would have been stood in that spot last season. Even if they were, none would have checked their run to react to different phases of play as Haaland did, engineering his angles to generate power on the header.
Guardiola knows that, of course, hence why City have spent the past two years trying to sign Sergio Aguero’s replacement. Operating with false nines or midfielders up front was not a choice. ‘We are completely in love with him,’ Guardiola said. ‘It’s not just the goals, it’s how happy he is. I see his behaviour and his body language. His is always right.’
There appears a boyish wonder to Haaland’s celebrations, racing to all corners of the ground in crazed excitement. That is six Premier League goals in four appearances now, one every 54 minutes.
His third, bulldozing Joel Ward before deftly clipping into the corner when in full flight, was trademark Haaland.
Pep Guardiola’s side sit second in the league behind Arsenal after three wins and one draw
City, however, believe there is much more to come. They want him involved in the game a bit more, although that requires more cohesion as a team.
‘We understand that people doubt him sometimes, but we know the player he is and what he came from,’ Rodri said. ‘He needs three touches to score a goal, he’s an incredible player.
‘He still needs to adapt. It is tough in that position because we are used to playing with a false nine that moves a lot and now we have him as a reference who doesn’t move too much.
‘His natural talent makes the difference but he needs to do better at being involved in the game — when to come, when to drop, when to go to the space.
Targeting City’s new £51m star has become the primary objective for Man City’s playmakers
‘It’s normal, we have just been together for one month and hope in the rest of the season he will improve.’
Rodri is now part of the club’s five-man leadership group and there will have been words at half-time, City conceding more goals from set-pieces in the first half than they did in the whole of last season.
This was also the fourth time in six games that they have gone two goals down.
‘We were lucky but tomorrow we might not be lucky and we’ll drop points,’ Guardiola said. But here came another rousing comeback by a team so often labelled too mechanical, too boring to truly admire.
He has scored six Premier League goals already, topping the division’s goal-scoring charts
Honourable mentions go to the lively substitute Julian Alvarez and Bernardo Silva, whose deflected goal prompted the turnaround. Shifted out to the right, Silva’s jinking runs opened up a tiring Palace. For City, a good job that Barcelona did not stump up the money.
‘What amazes me about Bernardo is that when the game is going wrong he makes a step forward, he loves to play in this situation,’ Guardiola added. ‘He’s comfortable with it.
‘Some players maybe step backward and he makes a step forward. That’s why he is irreplaceable in many ways for us.’
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