This ultimately – inevitably, perhaps – turned out to be another headline‑grabbing night from Erling Haaland, and this time he needed only 45 minutes to leave his mark on another Manchester City match.
Only three opposition sides – Liverpool, Bournemouth and the Serbia national team– have prevented Haaland from scoring at least once this season. It took him just seven minutes, and one touch, to ensure FC Copenhagen would not join that group.
As Haaland wheeled away after turning in João Cancelo’s cross, Pep Guardiola could simply do nothing other than laugh. The Etihad Stadium announcer joined in the fun, declaring: “Goal for City, who else?”
That is the thing, though: it is difficult to know how to react when you are witnessing a striker who touches the ball fewer than some of the ballboys and yet has 19 goals in 12 appearances this season.
By the time he was substituted at half-time here, the job had been comprehensively done by City and Haaland. He had scored a second – that is also 28 goals in 22 Champions League games, already more than Rivaldo and Luis Suárez – before being withdrawn, and City added a third courtesy of a Davit Khocholava own goal in a blistering first half. They scored two more after the break through Riyad Mahrez and Julián Álvarez to run out comfortable winners.
It means they can have qualification sewn up for the last 16 as early as next Tuesday, when they head to the Danish capital for the reverse fixture. “The way we played was magnificent, I’m so satisfied for the guys and how they performed,” Guardiola said. “The result was excellent but I’m really impressed the way we attacked. I’m really, really satisfied and again, compliments to the players.”
Rarely are goalkeepers impressive in a 5-0 defeat but had it not been for the exploits of Copenhagen’s former Liverpool and Huddersfield Town man, Kamil Grabara – whose performance Guardiola labelled “wonderful” – we could easily have been discussing a record-breaking Champions League scoreline here.
City were wonderful all across the field. The likes of Sergio Gómez and Ilkay Gündogan stood out with majestic individual displays.
It took Haaland just seven minutes to break the deadlock. In that time, City had already piled the pressure on Copenhagen and when Cancelo’s cross fell into the path of the Norwegian even Grabara probably knew what the outcome would be.
Haaland had been denied twice more by Grabara before the midway point of the first half, the Poland international already keeping things somewhat respectable.
But when Grabara palmed a Gómez shot into the path of Haaland, he claimed his second with ease. It left Copenhagen’s manager, Jacob Neestrup, in awe of both Haaland and City. “There wasn’t anything we could do,” he said.
“We need to accept we’re playing against the best team in the world right now. When you see the way he [Haaland] moves, it’s unnatural.”
City’s third did not involve Haaland, as a Gómez shot deflected off both Denis Vavro and Khocholava past a helpless Grabara. That was seemingly the catalyst for the striker to be rested, with Cole Palmer coming on at the interval. But City didn’t relent, and within nine minutes of the restart they had their fourth after Aymeric Laporte was fouled in the box. Mahrez effortlessly converted from the spot and if there were any lingering doubts about the outcome, they had firmly been eradicated.
Guardiola, perhaps looking ahead to the game against Southampton on Saturday, signalled further changes from the bench. The youngsters Rico Lewis and Josh Wilson-Esbrand were summoned for their first Champions League appearances, but that did not stunt City’s rhythm. They continued to press further forward for more goals, with more heroics from Grabara in the Copenhagen goal keeping the scoreline anything like respectable.
The Danes did come close to a goal of their own when Valdemar Lund Jensen headed narrowly wide from a corner. But perhaps fittingly,the hosts had the final word on a night when little appeared to go wrong. Their fifth came when a driving run from Jack Grealish – who was also outstanding and appears to be nearing his best once again – led to Álvarez prodding home from close range to put the seal on another perfect night for City and their talismanic striker. The only grumble for Haaland? He didn’t leave with another hat-trick ball.