Kevin De Bruyne earns plaudits as Erling Haaland hits five for Manchester City

By Sports Desk February 27, 2024

Pep Guardiola praised the “generosity” of Kevin De Bruyne after he set up four of Erling Haaland’s five goals as Manchester City thrashed Luton at Kenilworth Road to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Haaland, who returned at the end of January from nearly two months out, grabbed the headlines with his finishing but this 6-2 win owed every bit as much to De Bruyne, the architect of four of his team-mate’s haul and a devastating creative presence throughout.

The pair combined for City’s opener inside three minutes. Matheus Nunes fed the Belgian with a clever reverse pass, releasing him into a channel down the left, and the cutback came to the left foot of Haaland who wrapped his boot around it for 1-0.

The same combination created the second, this time a pass threaded through the middle ended with Haaland fending off defender Teden Mengi and crashing it through the legs of Tim Krul.

The third arrived before the break, with VAR required to adjudicate that the Norwegian had successfully stayed onside as he set off to reach De Bruyne’s through-ball, chipping his finish over the goalkeeper.

Luton fought gamely in spite of the Haaland onslaught. Jordan Clark curled one brilliantly beyond Stefan Ortega at the end of the half, offering Rob Edwards’ side hope, before thumping in another at the near post after the break as the home fans sniffed a famous fightback.

They were given all of three minutes to dream. Haaland and City’s fourth was another tap-in from yet another De Bruyne set-up. The fifth cruel on Krul, the ball squirming through the goalkeeper’s body as the cup holders’ top scorer finally declared.

Mateo Kovacic hit a sixth, and Luton could breathe for the final few minutes after Haaland was withdrawn.

“The players read the game perfectly,” said Guardiola. “The connection of Kevin with Erling was great but everyone contributed. Happy to be in the quarter-finals, one game away from Wembley.

“Erling needs a guy with the vision, the quality, the generosity. Kevin is the less selfish player in front of goal. Kevin needs the movement from Erling. We know how aggressive they are.

“Every pass was good. The finishing from Erling was good. We could have scored more, we had two or three more chances, one against one with Krul. But the players read (the game) really well. They did it perfectly.

“My only concern was that Erling had been two months stopped, he couldn’t walk, couldn’t make anything. When you lose two months, that rhythm is not easy to get back.

“Every game he’s getting better. Kevin as well. Step by step, they are coming back.”

The game was only marred for City by the loss of a visibly upset Jack Grealish just before half-time to injury.

“I didn’t speak to the doctor but I think he was complaining a bit about his groin,” said Guardiola. “He felt really good but unfortunately was injured again.

“It’s been a tough season for him. He’ll have to recover well and help us when he’s able to come back.”

Luton boss Edwards reflected on a masterclass from De Bruyne and Haaland.

“There’s no doubt about it, they were incredible,” he said. “The played in the space we gave them and did it very well. But our lads were incredibly brave and bold, and stuck to the task.

“We’re not going change, we just need to get better, to keep improving.”

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