MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Pep Guardiola has coached arguably the greatest-ever soccer player in Lionel Messi, so it speaks volumes when he admits he has run out of words to describe Erling Haaland’s start to life at Manchester City.
“My English language is not big enough,” the City manager said after the Norway striker took his goal tally to 22 this season in a 3-1 win against Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday.
Haaland, who had failed to find the back of the net in last week’s 1-0 loss to Liverpool, quickly got over that mini-drought with two first-half goals as the Premier League champion moved to within a point of leader Arsenal.
With 17 goals in the league, Haaland needs just six more to equal the 23 goals that saw Mo Salah and Son Heung-min share the Golden Boot as last season’s joint leading scorers.
“Erling has the quality,” Guardiola said. “With big space he can do it, but with small space he can do it. This is the reality, it is fantastic.”
Haaland’s goals have come in just 15 appearances in all competitions. He looked set to register his fourth hat trick of the season, with both goals coming before halftime.
He opened the scoring after 22 minutes when racing on to Ederson’s long clearance. With Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez stranded outside of his goal, Haaland overpowered Adam Webster and rolled the ball into an empty net.
He got his and City’s second two minutes before halftime after referee Craig Pawson reviewed a challenge from Lewis Dunk on Bernardo Silva and awarded a penalty.
Haaland stepped up and powered a low shot past Sanchez, which was the club’s 600th league goal under Guardiola.
Just as City fans might have been wondering how many goals their team would rack up in a latest rout, Brighton reduced the deficit.
Riyad Mahrez looked set to add to the home team’s lead but his tame shot was saved by Sanchez, which allowed Brighton to break. Solly March laid the ball off to Leandro Trossard just outside the penalty box and he unleashed a low drive that beat Ederson at his near post in the 53rd.
Trossard could have equalized later when running through on goal – but his shot from a tight angle was saved.
Brighton paid the price for that missed opportunity when Kevin de Bruyne made it 3-1 in the 75th with a superb 25-yard shot that curled into the top corner.
While Guardiola has run out of superlatives for Haaland, he is still to be fully satisfied by De Bruyne this season.
“He is not playing at his top level, not yet,” he said. “He made a fantastic goal, but he is not playing at his best. He knows, I don’t have to tell him. His dynamic is still not perfect, I spoke with him.
“The goal is outstanding. Thanks to him we didn’t suffer in the last 15-20 minutes.”