After a summer filled with unexpected storylines, a familiar story emerges. As a host of intriguing new characters were added to the cast list, the lead man reaffirmed his dominance. With the return of the Premier League, Erling Haaland also returned. It was perhaps the most overwhelmingly predictable start to a season imaginable. Manchester City are currently at the top of the table and Haaland is the top scorer. Nine months later, either statement may remain true.
However, there was something staggeringly awe-inspiring amidst the sense of normality. Haaland’s defense of his golden boot began just 185 seconds after the opening whistle. He’s a good first finisher but this was a different kind of first touch: his first goal in the top flight came from Burnley. His second goal came before half-time – a goal with a devastating blend of power and accuracy. None of that spared him savage digs from head coach Pep Guardiola as they went wide at half-time, but combined with a Rodri goal it proved too much for Burnley.
The championship champions lost to the champions of the Premier League and even Europe. None of this should come as a surprise to Burnley manager Vincent Kompany – the man with a statue outside Etihad Stadium was a regular there last season – or Turf Moor faithful. There are one-sided rivalries and then there’s Burnley v City: Guardiola’s twelfth consecutive win against the Clarets took the aggregate score to 43-1 during that period.
Each has an added dimension: it was Burnley, but not as the Premier League last knew them, with the passing principles Kompany inherited from Guardiola but nullified by the Haaland factor. City made a quick transition from a team that excelled at sharing goals to a team that liked to rely on a strong individual. They weren’t at their best on Turf Moor, but with a finisher of Haaland’s caliber, that wasn’t necessary either.
In his debut season in England he scored 52 goals, the best performance by a top player in almost a century, and 36 in the Premier League, a division record. It was extraordinary, but maybe not an isolated case. Normal service was soon resumed: Haaland could take a quiet Community Shield as a happy omen considering he has now started with a brace in consecutive Premier League seasons.
Turf Moor, which has even been refurbished to add a few nods to glossy modernity, can prove an awkward place to visit, and a missile was thrown at Rico Lewis, resulting in a fan being removed by police while substitute Anass Zaroury received a red card in added time for a nasty attack on Kyle Walker. But his powers of intimidation waned as Haaland put City ahead early. Kompany started with three central defenders and Burnley conceded after three minutes.
The Norwegian’s longest-running goal defeat in a city shirt spanned six games in four competitions, three of them in finals. It ended so quickly and quietly that one could guess he hadn’t spent the summer fretting over a rare infertility. Kevin De Bruyne crossed, Rodri headed the ball back across the box and Haaland fired in a low shot.
It was a reminder that perhaps his greatest asset is not size or pace, even if they give him a physical advantage over most opponents, but an uncanny ability to capture the ball in a crowded box. He’s also much more than just a poacher, as his second goal showed. A left-footed shot from under the bar with power after Julian Alvarez found it was the kind of goal De Bruyne could have scored, albeit with the other foot. But the City captain had already left by then: similar to his last assignment, the Champions League final, the Belgian limped off the pitch in the first half.
He may miss out on the European Super Cup but his departure had more immediate repercussions: Guardiola brought in Mateo Kovacic and replaced Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Alvarez to restore some control to Burnley’s finest period. They fell silent after that, conceding a third when Rodri struck after Burnley failed to clear Silva’s free-kick.
But Kompany’s team also had an enterprising element. Swiss striker Mohamed Zeki Amdouni turned heads on his debut, showing he has the courage to put many teams under pressure. He tested Ederson with a shot but it was Burnley’s only shot on target. It helped that City were able to bolster their defense with the £77million signing of Josko Gvardiol, who later became a backup left-back.
A former City defender, Kompany, had shown his audacity. He selected six summer signings from his starting XI and chose a side with an average age of just 23 years and 306 days. It was the youngest game Burnley have ever called up in the Premier League and in Connor Roberts there was a lone survivor from that league’s last game. They were reinvented in the Championship during their exile. It coincided with the arrival of Haaland and while he never had the impression of a one-season miracle, Burnley received unwelcome evidence that his second year at City could be just as productive as his first.