As the ball hit the net and Erling Haaland wheeled away yet again, Pep Guardiola simply laughed out loud. The stadium announcer declared: “Goal for City, who else?” Supporters were shaking their heads in disbelief. That’s the thing about what Erling Haaland is doing. He manages to make even a routine night’s work for Manchester City like this interesting, and leave you wondering how you’re going to react.
The bad news for supporters of Southampton, City’s next opponents, is that Haaland was given the second half off here to freshen him for the games ahead. By the time he had been withdrawn at half-time though, Guardiola’s side had already done more than enough to see off a helpless FC Copenhagen and take another step towards the Champions League knockout stages with time to spare. They led 3-0 at the break and added another two thereafter to ultimately run out comfortable winners.
Haaland scored two more here to add to his seemingly never-ending tally. The first was with his first touch of the match to take his total for City this season to 19 in 12 matches. He has 28 Champions League goals already, too. But City, even sans Haaland in the second half, were impressive everywhere you looked. That’s the thing about this side though: they are impressive in almost every aspect – they just have a player who has a habit of plucking the headlines.
Guardiola made five changes from the derby victory over Manchester United. The injured Kyle Walker dropped out, meaning a switch to right-back for João Cancelo, with Rúben Dias, Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Gómez making up an almost entirely new-look back four. Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden were rested after their derby displays, with Riyad Mahrez and Julián Álvarez given a chance to shine.
Yet despite all those changes, City were almost immediately into their stride. And when the first goal came after seven minutes, not only was the team that scored it an inevitability, but the player in question was, too. Cancelo drove forward and fired across goal, and when the ball deflected into the path of Haaland, you suspected even Copenhagen’s goalkeeper, Kamil Grabara, knew what was coming next. Haaland finished with the usual precision, and City were up and running.
Grabara, the former Liverpool goalkeeper who spent five years at Anfield without making a competitive appearance for the Reds, was almost single-handedly keeping Copenhagen in the match as the first half wore on. He saved well from Ilkay Gündogan and Mahrez on two separate occasions, and had already prevented Haaland from scoring on two more occasions with smart saves, too.
If it felt like Copenhagen were already retreating into damage limitation mode, then that’s because they were probably were. But just as you were beginning to wonder if those two misses were rendering Haaland something like human, the world suddenly began spinning on its familiar axis again just after the half-hour mark. As City’s pressure intensified once again, a Mahrez corner found its way to Gomez on the edge of the area.
Grabara saved well, but he could only palm it into the path of Haaland, for his 28th Champions League goal in 22 games, already taking him past the likes of Rivaldo and Luis Suárez. There was even time for a third before the break. Haaland wasn’t involved this time though, as Gómez’s shot deflected off Denis Vavro before bouncing off the helpless body of Davit Khocholava and past Grabara. He had made five or six superb saves in the first half but mercifully, by the break, all he had done was prevent City – and Haaland, probably – from clocking up some sort of record.
And that was that for Haaland, his work complete for the evening. He was replaced by Cole Palmer at half time but City didn’t relent. It took them only nine minutes to add their fourth, Mahrez converting from the penalty spot after Laporte was fouled in the box. That led to further changes from Guardiola, with the youngsters Rico Lewis and Josh Wilson-Esbrand coming on for their first Champions League appearances.
Copenhagen came close to sending their boisterous travelling home support with at least a goal when Valdemar Lund Jensen headed narrowly wide. But within seconds, City had sprung up the other end and scored a fifth as a driving run from Jack Grealish led to Álvarez prodding home. Victory in Denmark next Tuesday guarantees a place in the last 16 for City with two games still to play. Copenhagen will probably be hoping Haaland has the night off.