Making history is rarely so unsurprising. The problem with Erling Haaland is that the predictability of his exploits can dull a sense of wonder. It was not a question of whether he scored more goals than anyone in a season in Premier League history, but when and how. Just when it appeared he was about to enter a game-long goal drought, he sped into Jack Grealish’s pass and hit a shot that, aided by a crouching Lukasz Fabianski, flew into the West Ham net.
It took him 35 league goals. And now all the division’s top scorers are after Haaland: the record of 34, set in a 42-game season, shared by Andy Cole and Alan Shearer for the past 28 years, has fallen, as long seemed obvious. It also took him to 51st in all competitions: Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring and Vic Watson, rather less frequently mentioned figures since World War II than before, each racked up a half century, but now there’s just Dixie Dean, with his each once again iconic number 63, set in 1927-28, ahead of Haaland. Only one footballer has scored more goals in a season for an English top division team.
The Norwegian’s numbers are Dean-esque, seemingly straight out of another era: 17 in his last 10 games, 13 in his last six at home. The first two of his 51 came against West Ham, in August, so perhaps they were suitable opponents for a record strike. To be fair, David Moyes’ exhausted team did a better job of stopping Haaland than most: For 69 minutes, he served little. He deflected a difficult chance, a run into the box stopped by a wonderfully timed challenge from Thilo Kehrer, but he was well watched.
And yet, a real chance was all he needed. He highlighted Haaland’s pace and ability to run behind defenses that are part of a formidable arsenal. He was facilitated, in a way, by Nathan Ake, whose first goal forced West Ham to open up and push up. They were duly punished: Haaland now has the most goals in a top-flight league season since Ron Davies, and his tally of 37, set for Southampton in 1966-67, looks to be the next to fall to the rampaging striker. .
Along the way he, along with Ake and Phil Foden, who scored a third to take City to 1000 goals under Pep Guardiola, recast the title race, also quite predictably. Arsenal is relegated to second place again. They have led the way for 248 days but, with City back in action on Saturday, perhaps no more. City, with nine league wins in a row, show few signs of slowing down.
Certainly not at home, where they extended a 100 per cent record in 2023, winning 13 out of 13. The last team to deny them victory at the Etihad, oddly enough, was Frank Lampard’s Everton. A former Everton manager has his toughest task yet with the illness that ruled out Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Nayef Aguerd. With Kurt Zouma injured, Moyes was left without a foursome that would have assumed importance in a defensive game plan. But there was unexpected resistance from West Ham. They had conceded four to Crystal Palace but, with a weaker side lined up in a 5-4-1 formation, they showed considerably more stubbornness.
City had 80 per cent of possession in the first half, but only two shots on goal. They missed Kevin de Bruyne, with the absence of Haaland’s chief supplier again, and his extraordinary ability to create something out of nothing. They only really threatened in a three minute period when they hit the woodwork twice. Grealish clipped the outside of the post after a fine pass from John Stones. Rodri then exchanged passes with Haaland, stormed into the box and fired a shot into the inside of the post.
They found a prosaic way to break the tie after the break, scoring from set pieces. Ake dodged past Angelo Ogbonna to head in a free kick from Riyad Mahrez. The margin of victory felt flattering as Foden came off the bench and his 20-yard volley missed Emerson Palmieri sharply.
It leaves West Ham facing the second half of a Mancunian double header with points still needed to ensure their safety and Haaland has an appointment with the team of the city where he was born. Leeds caretaker manager Sam Allardyce returns to the feuding division. for a problem he never faced in his previous two decades in the division: how to stop Haaland.