They say everything is bigger in Texas and we got a glimpse of the towering figure of Erling Haaland on the first leg of this US tour – but no more than that.
Having played four matches for Norway in the Nations League last month (in which he scored five goals) the striker has been put on an individual training program to make sure he is fit for City’s first Premier League game of the season – away to West Ham on Sunday, August 7, live on Sky Sports.
Despite being named on the bench, Haaland didn’t even warm up ahead of the 2-1 win over Club America in Houston in the early hours of Thursday morning. The £51m summer arrival from Borussia Dortmund was briefly shown on the big screen at the NRG Stadium wearing a City tracksuit rather than his match kit, which confirmed that Pep Guardiola never intended to give him any game time here.
Haaland has been the talk of the town even without playing and the suggestion is that – all being well – we will finally see him take to the field in Green Bay against Bayern Munich at the weekend.
Alvarez looks ready to slot into Pep’s machine
Away from Haaland, all eyes pre-match were on what shape City would use given the change in personnel over the summer. But when Julian Alvarez – the new signing from River Plate – started up front in the center of an attacking trio there didn’t appear to be too much difference from the way City lined up for large parts of last season.
The Argentine showed a willingness to run in behind and also plenty of energy to drop deep and track back. Afterwards, Guardiola was beaming when asked to comment on how he felt the new players did, and in Alvarez he feels he has someone who can fit right into his well-oiled machine.
Phillips helps to cover City’s defender shortage
Another of the new arrivals, Kalvin Phillips, wasn’t too pleased at being used as a centre-back by Marcelo Bielsa for Leeds, but his first touches in a City shirt also came at the heart of defence. City are short of options at the back and their problems mounted when Ruben Dias was consigned to his hotel room on the day before the game after feeling unwell. It meant Luke Mbete partnered Nathan Ake in the first half before an assured Phillips replaced Ake for the second.
Phillips said Guardiola had told him he was going to speak to Bielsa about him – but he might not be too happy if he turns out Bielsa recommended him for the job in defence, even if he did play with a calmness that suggested he could do so again.
All-action Grealish riles opposition
Jack Grealish still feels like a relatively new kid on the City block despite now entering his second season at the Etihad – and there’s no doubt it’s a big campaign for last summer’s record-breaking arrival. The England international started on the left of the front three and was all-action from the opening minute, showing his class with a series of mazy runs, although most of which ended with him being brought down by a Club America defender.
At various points Grealish waved his arms, demonstrated with the referee, got shoved by other players and was booed loudly by the Mexican side’s supporters. As another witness from the press box suggested, it would have been a good night to play Grealish bingo. A goal would have been nice but positive signs were there.
De Bruyne starts season where he left off
But while it still feels as though Grealish has questions to answer in a City shirt, there’s not much we don’t know about Kevin De Bruyne and it was his two goals that earned a standing ovation when he was eventually substituted with 20 minutes to go .
The first strike was one of typical individual brilliance as he curled in a right-footer from the edge of the box. The second owed as much to a pinpoint assist from Riyad Mahrez as the Belgian’s movement to ghost in behind.
In the absence of Haaland it was perhaps appropriate that City’s talisman was their proven match-winner in the Lone Star state.