Borussia Dortmund knew exactly what to expect from Erling Haaland; he plundered 86 goals in 89 appearances for them over two and a half prolific years after all. They were forewarned, and it made no difference whatsoever.
The Manchester City striker was contained by his former employers for 84 minutes. It made no difference whatsoever. City had come to life after falling behind to a second-half header from the excellent Jude Bellingham. With 10 minutes remaining John Stones unleashed an emphatic, uncharacteristic equaliser against the tiring German team.
Four minutes later João Cancelo looked up from the left and floated a gorgeous cross into the six-yard box with the outside of his right foot. Three Borussia defenders and one former Dortmund forward were waiting. “We’re all behind the ball where we’re meant to be,” explained Mats Hummels. “But no one closes the ball down and we let a cross reach Erling Haaland, who is just Erling Haaland.”
There was much more to the finish than that explanation. Haaland lifted off behind defensive substitute Nico Schlotterbeck, feet first, and with the outside of his left foot steered an acrobatic volley beyond Alexander Meyer. It was a remarkable goal from a player in remarkable form. Haaland now has 13 goals in his first nine outings for Pep Guardiola’s team, who were staring at a first home defeat in the Champions League in 21 matches until a triple substitution and a brace of superb goals transformed the contest.
Defeat was cruel on Dortmund, who presented a far more awkward test for the Premier League champions than last week’s 4-0 stroll in Sevilla, plus a test of patience for Haaland and those anticipating a continuation of the goal machine’s prolific start in City colours. In the first half Haaland regained possession several times, had a minor off-the-ball tussle with former Liverpool midfielder Emre Can and helped himself to a drink from visiting goalkeeper Meyer’s water bottle while awaiting a corner in the first half. But he did not get one sight of goal. The striker was not alone in that regard.
After an immaculately observed minute’s silence for Queen Elizabeth II, Edin Terzic’s side stifled City comfortably in the first half, their midfield trio helping form a compact unit that was content to let Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish receive the ball out wide while they shut down gaps in the centre. When danger did arise, the experienced centre-half duo of Hummels and Niklas Süle were alert to it. Süle prevented Haaland from capitalising on his first hint of a chance when heading away a Mahrez cross just as the Norwegian rose to connect. It was not until the 41st minute that Kevin De Bruyne found an opportunity to release Haaland behind the defence but that opening was snuffed out by a Hummels interception.
City created little before the interval, with Guardiola a picture of frustration at his players’ frequent failure to prevent Dortmund from playing out from the back. Grealish was another source of irritation. The £100m man was found in space on the left regularly but rarely got the better of Thomas Meunier at right-back or beat the visiting defence with a telling cross. It was no surprise when he was replaced.
Dortmund put City under sustained pressure with a fast, intense start to the second half. Guardiola summoned his assistants for an emergency meeting in the technical area but, by the time their changes were introduced, damage had been inflicted. Marco Reus had gone close with a chance engineered by Bellingham before the England midfielder opened the scoring.
The City crowd rose to applaud the imminent introduction of Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Julián Álvarez only for Dortmund to strike before they entered the fray. Salih Özcan beat Haaland to a corner from Giovanni Reyna, son of former City captain Claudio, and flicked on to Reus lurking unmarked on the far side of the penalty area. The Dortmund captain placed a cross back into the six-yard area where Bellingham, reacting quicker than Haaland or full debutant Manuel Akanji, darted between his two former teammates to beat Ederson with a glancing header from close range.
Guardiola’s substitutions improved City immeasurably in the final third yet Haaland endured more frustration before haunting his former club. The striker was given a first real sight of goal when De Bruyne’s chip played him through down the right channel but, from a tight angle, he shot wide. A Foden cross then appeared destined for the sliding Haaland only for Hummels to intervene with a challenge that Dortmund celebrated like a winning goal. Too soon.
An unlikely saviour emerged for City in the form of Stones. The defender, stationed at right-back in the absence of Kyle Walker, collected a pass from De Bruyne and opted to let fly from over 20 yards. Stones’ drive swerved over the head of Schlotterbeck and into the near top corner of Meyer’s goal. The keeper could have done better than wave at the shot although the pace and dip were mitigating factors.
Then came the moment Haaland and City had longed for, and the one Dortmund had feared. He did not disappoint. Again.