Extended Highlights: Wolves 0-3 City
Pep Guardiola had complained in midweek that Manchester City had lost their fire and become a “happy flowers” team. Yet, on this evidence, spring may yet be blooming early in east Manchester and Erling Haaland, after a frustrating few weeks, is smelling of roses again.
The Norway striker’s fourth Premier League hat-trick took his tally to 31 goals with nearly half the season still to go and helped to keep the pressure on leaders Arsenal.
Wolves shot themselves in the foot after the break, conceding a soft penalty before a dreadful blunder from goalkeeper Jose Sa paved the way for Riyad Mahrez to tee up Haaland for City’s third and his 25th Premier League in just 19 matches.
There are still 18 league games to go and Haaland needs just eight goals to surpass Mohamed Salah’s record of 32 goals in a 38-game Premier League season and 10 to eclipse Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, both of whom managed 34 back when it was a 42-match competition in the early to mid Nineties. He would have the golden boot with his current tally in any of the past four seasons.
After earlier hat-tricks against Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Manchester United, Haaland’s three against Wolves mean he now has a third of Sergio Aguero’s Premier League record 12 and as many as Salah – after just six months in England.
Guardiola said after watching his team fight back from 2-0 down against Spurs on Thursday to win 4-2 that “something is missing” but this marked a return to form. Haaland was back in the goals, Mahrez and Jack Grealish impressed again, the midfield was more cohesive and John Stones was as tidy as ever at the back.
Not everyone will be happy. Joao Cancelo remained rooted to the substitutes bench. Guardiola seems to be operating an “anyone but Cancelo” policy at left-back at the moment, so Aymeric Laporte played the first half there then Nathan Ake the second when Rico Lewis went off. Phil Foden, who looked like he could do no wrong when scoring a hat-trick along with Haaland in that 6-3 demolition of United back in early October, was not even in the squad, his absence put down to the England forward not being fully fit.
City had to wait until five minutes before the interval for a goal to show for their supremacy. Jose Sa had made good saves to deny Haaland, Jack Grealish and – on the cusp of half-time – Grealish again but could not do much about Haaland’s 29th goal of the campaign. It was one of those moves we feel like we have seen a million times before from City, Rodri clipping the ball out to Riyad Mahrez on the right byline with Wolves having been dragged one way then the other. Mahrez touched the ball inside to Kevin De Bruyne and from there the best passer of the ball in the Premier League stood up another of those inch perfect crosses for Haaland to rise above Nathan Collins and head home.
Julen Lopetegui will have been happier with Sa’s handling than his kicking. The Wolves manager berated his goalkeeper twice in quick succession for booting the ball aimlessly upfield and gifting City possession back and then threw his hands in the air as if to say “At last” when Sa finally played short. Wolves just could not get the ball and when they did they were careless with it.
Getting physical did not really work either: Max Kilman booked for clattering Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Lemina and Lopetegui himself for protesting after Hwang Hee-chan brought down Lewis.
Lopetegui had seen enough and made a triple substitution at half-time, dragging off his entire attack of Raul Jimenez, Adama Traore and Hwang and replacing them with Matheus Cunha, Pablo Sarabia and Joao Moutinho. And then watched his side capitulate in the space of four minutes early in the second half, two individual errors costing them dear. First Ruben Neves tripped Gundogan as he ghosted in behind from a pass by Ake, on for Lewis. Haaland made no mistake from the spot.
And then Sa – criticised for going long in the first half – attempted a short pass but made a total botch of things: it was weak and inaccurate and allowed Mahrez to intercept and square for Haaland, who coolly side-footed the ball into the corner for his hat-trick. An absolute gift of a goal.