Five-star Erling Haaland sparks Man City rout to knock Luton out of the FA Cup

Erling Haaland - Five-star Erling Haaland sparks Man City rout to knock Luton out of the FA Cup
Erling Haaland was unstoppable as he scored five on a memorable night - Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

The qualities of Erling Haaland, master goalscorer, are many and they are varied, and it was Luton Town’s misfortune that they encountered all of them in the space of one FA Cup evening.

The Manchester City striker can, of course, score all flavours of goal. He can run in behind a defence, or he can sniff out the pocket of space in a static penalty area. He can also project himself upon a game to the extent that someone in the opposition does something foolish and gifts him one.

All of that happened in the 77 minutes he played at Kenilworth Road and along the way he scored five goals before the clock had ticked past 60 minutes.

The Luton defence can at least look back fondly on the final 17 minutes he spent on the pitch – at last they kept him quiet. Although Mateo Kovacic did, in that period, strike the sixth sweetly past Tim Krul who had, to his credit, previously stopped a couple of Haaland efforts.

Yet this was undoubtedly the work of a man operating on a plain to which only the very best goalscorers ascend. His first four goals were served up by Kevin De Bruyne, an accomplice of the highest order to the English game’s most ruthless snaffler of chances.

This was the most scored by a player in a FA Cup tie for a top-flight club since George Best buried six past Northampton Town for Manchester United in 1970. Two very different creatures of course. For Luton’s central defenders who were obliged to go one-on-one against Haaland as he ran on goal it must have felt at times like trying to wrestle a train back into the station.

It was undoubtedly the case that Luton’s high-risk approach played its part in this night of FA Cup fifth round history. Pep Guardiola called it “courage” to play such a high line against his team in a formation that did not double-up on Haaland and that was certainly the case.

“Brave and bold” said Rob Edwards of the approach that meant defenders were left to mark Haaland or De Bruyne alone. Although it did at least guarantee that a game was permitted to flourish. The alternative would have been City attacking a deep-sitting, tightly packed 10  outfielders with no ambition beyond the halfway line. In the spaces between the Haaland goals, Jordan Clark scored two excellent goals for Luton and there were chances for more.

As for those Haaland goals, he ran in behind for two. He got in position for the cut-back for the first and the fourth. For his fifth he drilled a shot straight at Krul that the Luton goalkeeper flapped in.

It is not even the first time Haaland has scored five for City in a single game, the previous occasion against RB Leipzig in the Champions League was less than one year ago. With 27 goals this season already, Haaland gets to try this against United in the derby at the Etihad on Sunday.

Whether Jack Grealish plays in that game or not must be in doubt with the City winger coming off in the first half with what looks like, after Copenhagen, his second injury in two weeks.

At times it might have felt like an act of self-sabotage, but whatever it was Luton were trying to do in the first half – it was at least interesting. Haaland was up against the 21-year-old former United academy boy Teden Mengi in the first half and before the break, an injury to Amari’i Bell meant that Edwards had to send on the 18-year-old academy graduate Joe Johnson.

The Luton manager would later chuckle at the scale of the task he set the teenager – and that really was the only way to look at it. A learning experience for all concerned.

There are many ways of losing to the great City teams of the Abu Dhabi era – and by now we have seen them all. This was one was by far the most watchable.

The first goal was unfortunate. A slip by Clark let in De Bruyne and Haaland freed himself in the area to take the finish first time. Mengi was then obliged to go up alone against Haaland in pursuit of De Bruyne’s throughball. This one was hit so perfectly hit it curved into Haaland’s left foot while Mengi came from his right side and the defender never really got close to it before the finish came.

The third Haaland goal came from another De Bruyne pass – then a gentle chip over Krul executed at full pace with Johnson in pursuit. Kyle Walker’s ball down the line to De Bruyne created the opportunity to cut-back again for Haaland’s fourth. His fifth was a shot hit straight at Krul that somehow found its way through.

Clark, an elegant player once of Accrington Stanley and Shrewsbury Town among others is, at 30, playing his first season in the Premier League. This FA Cup goal was hit with his right foot and placed in a top corner Stefan Ortega had no hope of reaching. His second was made by Ross Barkley with a wonderful scoop through.

“The best No 9 and No 10 combination I have ever seen live,” Edwards reflected afterwards on Haaland and De Bruyne.

He was generous about City and positive about his own players. It felt like everyone, in their own way, had basked in a little bit of FA Cup magic.

When Haaland departed the pitch on 77 minutes there was no grand standing ovation from the home fans but there were still many who could not resist applauding.

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