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Erling Haaland scores twice as Man City thrash FC Copenhagen in Champions League

After the first, Pep Guardiola turned to the bench shaking his head in disbelief, as if this was not what everyone in attendance at the Etihad had come to see. As if it wasn’t what everyone has come to expect.

After the second, the Manchester City manager rubbed his hands in glee, mouthing several ‘wows’ in the direction of his staff. You would have thought, at that point, that he would keep Erling Haaland on the pitch long enough to score a third.

But it turns out for Guardiola, not even maintaining one of the most extraordinary starts to life at a new club that any centre-forward has had in recent memory is as important as proper rest and rotation. Haaland was removed at half-time of this 5-0 victory over Copenhagen. Even so, it is now a remarkable 19 goals in 12 competitive games for City, and 28 goals in 22 appearances in the Champions League - as many as Ryan Giggs managed in 21 years.

It could easily have been even more, too - another hat-trick, at least - if not for an inspired performance by goalkeeper Kamil Grabara. Perhaps Guardiola’s decision to substitute Haaland at the break was a sign of appreciation for the former Liverpool academy player’s efforts. It certainly wasn’t a show of mercy. Riyad Mahrez and Julian Alvarez added a couple more to Haaland’s brace and Davit Khocholava’s own goal to complete the rout

This was all a far cry from the last meeting between these two clubs, which came during the first season of Abu Dhabi’s takeover, in the early knock-out stages of what was then still called the Uefa Cup. Playing in Europe was still something of a novelty for City. A brace by Craig Bellamy, scored under a hard, driving rain, secured a 4-3 victory on aggregate and passage to the last-16 of a European competition for the first time in 30 years.

The same feat is considered a formality these days - even when it comes at the elite level - and these three points left City on the verge of their ninth consecutive qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages. Victory in the Danish capital next week will guarantee it. On this evidence, that too will be a formality. Both with and without Haaland on the pitch, Guardiola’s side predictably dominated Group G’s fourth seeds.

The tone was set right from kick-off. It was Copenhagen’s and a pass straight back to Khocholava was followed by a long, hopeful punt upfield. Ederson collected the ball, reset the play and there followed a long, unbroken spell of City possession that deprived Copenhagen of their third touch of the ball until the third minute. It was going to be that sort of evening. An early breakthrough already felt inevitable.

And inevitably, it was Haaland. Joao Cancelo’s cross from the right was deflected slightly but that sort of thing does not seem to matter much these days. Whether a pass is blocked, intercepted or even wildly misplaced, the ball still finds its way to his feet. This one sat up nicely for him, unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. As he did in Sunday’s Manchester derby to complete his hat-trick, Haaland swept in left-footed.

Haaland added to his remarkable goal tally with two more against Copenhagen

(PA Wire)

It was a similar tale for the second. Haaland had by that point been twice denied by Grabara, once by a spectacular one-handed stop of a shot so powerful it almost sent the Copenhagen goalkeeper over his own goal-line. But no matter what, he finds a way. When Grabara got a palm on an effort from distance from Sergio Gomez, who was on hand to emerge through a crowd of bodies and tap in the rebound? Who else?

Another Gomez shot from distance led to the third, bouncing up off Khocholava’s shins and trickling over the line. Haaland had stood directly behind the Copenhagen defender, his mere presence enough to put Khocholava off a routine clearance. The Norwegian took his shirt off before heading down the tunnel at half-time, which was perhaps an indication that he knew he would not re-emerge. His withdrawal was not injury-related, as proved a post-match lap of honour ran at full pelt.

By that point, Haaland’s team-mates had reminded everyone that they are still a rather good side without him. After Aymeric Laporte was brought down at the start of the second half, Mahrez converted a confidence-boosting penalty. The Algerian then turned provider for Alvarez, who is having to get used to playing as Haaland’s foil, but has made a decent scoring start of his own with five in 11 appearances.

Even so, there is only one show in town at the moment, and Haaland only needs a half to be the star of it.