Manchester City striker Erling Haaland celebrates scoring against Everton

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Erling Haaland scored for the first time since November as the Manchester City striker’s double fired the champions to the top of the Premier League with a gritty 2-0 win against Everton on Saturday.

Pep Guardiola’s side were well below their best as they laboured to break down stubborn Everton at a nervous Etihad Stadium.

But Haaland struck twice late in the second half to get back on the scoresheet for the first time since returning from an absence of nearly two months due to a foot injury.

They were the Norway star’s first Premier League goals since he netted against Liverpool on November 25 and his first in five games in all competitions since he scored against Leipzig in the Champions League on November 28.

“Of course Erling is back. To have this player, when the ball is there from a corner, the finishing was amazing,” Guardiola said.

City are back on top of the table for the first time since November 24, but Liverpool, who are one point behind in second place, will return to the summit if they beat lowly Burnley at Anfield later on Saturday.

Guardiola’s men have won their last 10 games in all competitions, but the Spaniard might be a little concerned with the labourious way they took to the task against struggling Everton.

“Of course Everton are incredibly well organised. In the first half our body language was not good, we were always complaining. In the second half they were more positive,” he said.

“If you want to give the best of yourself the body language has to be in the right position. Finally we took a massively important three points.”

City are unbeaten in their last 22 league games at the Etihad, but third-from-bottom Everton didn’t make it easy for them.

Everton’s haven’t beaten City since 2017 but Guardiola had painful memories of a 1-1 draw against the Merseysiders last season and had urged his players not to let their guard down.

City monopolised over 80 percent of the possession in the first half an hour, they found it impossible to prise open Everton’s massed defence.

Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden had shots blocked as Everton threw themselves into tackles with abandon.

Haaland stretched to head over from Jeremy Doku’s cross when Foden was lurking in a more dangerous position behind the striker.

- Haaland to the rescue -

Guardiola cut an anxious figure on the touchline, constantly gesticulating towards his players in a bid to get them to pass quicker and with more precision.

When the ball dropped kindly for Manuel Akanji inside the Everton area, the City defender looked certain to break the deadlock, but James Tarkowski made a last-ditch block as VAR ignored the hosts’ appeals for handball.

It was the first time City had failed to have a shot on target in the first half of a home league game since August 2022.

As City’s angst mounted, Rodri’s woeful long-range strike sailed into the stands to the sound of frustrated groans from home fans.

Guardiola had seen enough of City’s struggles and sent on Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker early in the second half.

City belatedly found some rhythm and their longest wait for a shot on target in a league game since September 2021 finally ended in the 71st minute.

Everton made a hash of clearing a corner and the ball broke for Haaland, whose fierce strike deflected in off Jordan Pickford’s leg to spark wild celebrations from the Norwegian and his relieved team-mates.

Guardiola this week said you don’t need a Harvard education to understand the threat posed by Haaland and De Bruyne.

Everton clearly hadn’t studied hard enough on that subject as De Bruyne’s precise pass sent Haaland motoring towards goal.

Overpowering Jarrad Branthwaite, Haaland left the Everton defender flailing on the turf as he sprinted clear to slot a cool finish past Pickford as he marked his 50th Premier League start in style.