Blue smoke shrouded the Etihad Stadium at kick-off. The message on the pitch, courtesy of a massive banner, had read: “This is Manchester”. If it was meant to signify the arrival of a striking superstar, an update of the “Welcome to Manchester” posters that greeted Carlos Tevez 13 years ago, Erling Haaland could not provide the finish to accompany the fanfare.
His home debut featured an assist but not a goal, and a lovely pass was perhaps proof that Pep Guardiola’s coaching can turn anyone into a creator, but the virtuoso display came from Kevin de Bruyne. Haaland may yet become the Premier League’s most prolific forward but De Bruyne has had a status as its most compelling midfielder for years.
The newcomer’s two-goal league debut at West Ham had hinted at a shift in approach from Manchester City, a reversion to a more orthodox model of servicing a predatory striker, but this was a reminder they scored 99 league goals last season, many of them in games when no one even resembled a centre-forward. The goals were shared around again, with the two No 8s – positionally if not always in terms of shirt number – scoring wonderful goals and Bournemouth’s No 8, in shirt number though not his role in defence, Jefferson Lerma donating an own goal.
City’s third was further testament to the way they have not always needed a centre forward, with Phil Foden scoring after the kind of run Guardiola’s wingers tend to make. For Haaland what looked perhaps the easiest game of the season could have offered the opportunity for a hat-trick. Instead, he got evidence the frontman has joined an ensemble of a band.
Arguably the day’s loudest cheer greeted the introduction of Bernardo Silva, the City supporters sending a signal amid his annual flirtation with Barcelona. The Portuguese remains a favourite of Guardiola but, while doubts surround his future, he saw the players who started in his stead star and score.
Ilkay Gundogan’s previous outing at the Etihad Stadium brought the title-winning goal against Aston Villa and he again demonstrated his finishing prowess. His goal was something of a role reversal. Six days earlier, Haaland won a penalty at West Ham following an incisive ball from the German. Now the Norwegian supplied a defence-splitting pass, creating space by dragging three defenders towards him and digging out a pass as the midfielder made the kind of Lampard-esque run from deep that became his trademark two seasons ago.
He was City’s top scorer in the league then. De Bruyne assumed that mantle last year and carried on in a similar vein, scoring with the outside of his right foot after a driving run infield and a feint that fooled Lloyd Kelly. Then a marauding De Bruyne popped up on the left to release Foden to make it three.
The second half was a more soporific affair in the heat. Haaland skewed a shot wide from a pass by Jack Grealish, who had replaced Foden at the break. Lerma, who had scored at the right end in victory over Aston Villa, accidentally turned in Joao Cancelo’s cross.
It may only affect their goal difference, with the result a formality long before then; before kick-off, some would suggest, though City made a dominant start to underline a gulf in class. Bournemouth have never taken a Premier League point against City and have only led for eight minutes. Neither sorry statistic needed updating but then perhaps, despite their opening victory over Villa, they have never been such underdogs.
Parity was preserved for 19 minutes and there was some surprise Bournemouth held out for that long. City could have scored twice from corners in the first four minutes while Mark Travers distinguished himself with a superb save from Foden.
Scott Parker’s starting 11 all played in the Championship last season, and without the injured Dominic Solanke, who scored 29 times in the second tier, looked weaker than some of their line-ups then.
Bournemouth spent more time backing off than stopping City, retreating to the sanctuary of their own box as a 5-4-1 formation became a flat back nine; Kieffer Moore’s career has taken him from the Conference South to the Premier League and he faced a similarly gruelling journey simply to get close to his midfield.
But this was a damage-limitation exercise and Bournemouth may consider that keeping Haaland out ranked as an unexpected bonus.
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