Manchester City did not falter. Pep Guardiola’s side defeated Julen Lopetegui’s Wolves 3-0 to put pressure on Arsenal. They are two points off the leaders before the duel between the Gunners and Manchester United.
Erling Haaland owned the game. After 54 minutes, 14 between his first and last goal, the Norwegian striker crushed the Wolves with three goals. He scored, with a header, after a measured cross from a Kevin De Bruyne who is his best partner (he has given him seven assists) and who has 12 assists in all.
In the second half, he made it 2-0 with a penalty and completed his hat-trick to make it 3-0. He was a hurricane that took everything in its path.
How’s that for fire, Pep? Well, a performance warm enough to toast marshmallows in the Manchester cold rather than a roarer. Pleasant without becoming particularly wild.
But it presented a strong follow-up to last week’s dramatics for starters, when Pep Guardiola vented at a lack of desire and passion engulfing the club, one he felt was not showing nearly enough hunger to defend another title.
Those feelings had been festering for weeks and he picked his moment to vent after a rousing victory, a ploy he has used countless times during seven years at Manchester City and one – by this juncture – that is rather transparent.
City still possess a few extra logs to chuck on in reserve to further stoke this season up, and Guardiola will want those utilised when the schedule becomes packed with relentless must-win games at home and abroad.
For now, Wolves were dispatched with relative ease, hope extinguished during a 14-minute spell either side of half time when Haaland surpassed the totals of all Golden Boot winners since 2018. He has played 19 matches.
Until then, Haaland had been frustrated by Collins.The nimble centre-half completed a number of smart interceptions, one catching the eye when City’s No 9 raced through. Collins also saved Jack Grealish’s shot off the line, heading clear, although was fortunate not to have conceded a penalty when scraping Grealish’s calf. David Coote left the decision to VAR, who said carry on.
Coote was in doubt about another appeal, on 50 minutes, when substitute Nathan Ake spliced Wolves for Ilkay Gundogan to gallop. Ruben Neves ran into Gundogan’s line, tripping the City captain, and Haaland gratefully slapped down the middle.
Jose Sa did not really have much of a prayer with the penalty but his involvement in Haaland’s third was utterly bizarre at best. Playing out from the back, his attempted pass into midfield was under-hit and nowhere near the intended target.
Riyad Mahrez barely moved to retrieve the errant ball, knocked sideways for Haaland and from there he passed into Sa’s net, guarded only by the despairing Collins. Sa collapsed to the turf.
‘Sometimes you have to take risks, it’s not about playing short or long – you have to take good decisions,’ Julen Lopetegui said. ‘We want to damage the opposition and I want improvement.’
Sergio Aguero holds the Premier League hat-tricks, scoring 12 during his decade at City, and Haaland is now only eight behind six months into his spell here. And people were wondering whether he makes this team worse.
Guardiola afforded him a rest just after the hour, complete with a standing ovation, and City might have really embarrassed Lopetegui again, in a season they have already dismantled his Sevilla team. Gundogan inexplicably headed over inside the six-yard box, while Mahrez – electric on the right-hand side again – saw his big toe flagged offside when dinking in De Bruyne’s through ball.
Julian Alvarez nearly added a fourth, too, while Pablo Sarabia had his moments on debut for the visitors – Ake blocking a shot that seemed destined to beat Ederson.
‘We are the champions for a reason and we want to be champions again,’ John Stones said. ‘I didn’t see the comments from Pep. But I knew what he said to us at half-time [last week] and what he knows we can do and us as players when you are not playing as well as you can.’
Haaland has 25 goals in 19 Premier League games. He is unstoppable and swept Wolves aside, who under Lopetegui had come out of the relegation places but conceded the same number of goals (three) at the Etihad as in their previous four matches.
Pablo Sarabia made his debut for Wolves and came close to scoring in a match in which the side had good spells, especially in the first half. However, they were unable to stop Erling, who is on his way to breaking all records. He is unstoppable.