Manchester City 3 – 0 Wolves
Manchester City 3 – 0 Wolves. Erling Haaland scored his fourth Manchester City hat-trick and took his goal tally for the season to 31 in all competitions as relegation-threatened Wolves were swept aside by Pep Guardiola’s men.
By his own incredibly high standards, Haaland had been going through a barren spell.
But after ending a three-game drought against Tottenham on Thursday, the Norwegian demolished Wolves in a 12-minute spell either side of half-time.
Haaland initially rose to head home Kevin de Bruyne’s cross to put the hosts ahead at the break.
He then drove home a penalty after Ilkay Gundogan had been fouled by Wolves skipper Ruben Neves, before sweeping home his third after Jose Sa’s pass out of his six-yard box went straight to Riyad Mahrez.
Haaland has now scored 25 goals in City’s first 20 Premier League games. That is five more than Luis Suarez managed in 2013-14, the previous highest figure at this stage in the season.
The Norwegian striker’s current total would have been enough to earn him the Golden Boot in more than half of the 30 campaigns since the English top flight was renamed in 1992.
He has also already scored as many Premier League hat-tricks as Mo Salah, and a third of Sergio Aguero’s record 12, which the Argentine achieved across his magnificent decade with City.
Only Alan Shearer has scored more Premier League hat-tricks in a single season, with five.
When Guardiola came out with his extraordinary rant after the win over Tottenham, he spoke about the difficulty of maintaining drive and determination when you are so used to winning.
That is why Haaland is so important to this team.
The Norwegian’s last league title was three years ago in Austria. His last trophy was the German Cup with Borussia Dortmund in 2021.
If the idea of a fifth championship in six seasons fails to motivate some City players, Haaland is not among them, and his thirst for goals could be a telling factor as the second half of this season unfolds.
Guardiola saw no point in pushing the striker, and replaced him with World Cup winner Julian Alvarez after an hour.
More good news for City is that Jack Grealish also seems to be finding more consistency.
His teasing advances from the left are more reminiscent of his Aston Villa days and would have brought him a first-half goal had Sa not made one superb save and Nathan Collins not been in the right place at the right time to head another effort off the line.
Mahrez had an effort ruled out for offside, after which City cruised home and Haaland was able to take the acclaim of the home fans at the end.
This was the first significant setback for Julen Lopetegui since he replaced Bruno Lage as Wolves’ boss during the World Cup.
If there is comfort for former Spain and Real Madrid coach, it comes from the knowledge there are not many more demanding tests than this, even if his side only remains outside the relegation zone on goal difference.
The arrival of Craig Dawson for £3.3m from West Ham should help shore up a hesitant defence, while a first start for Mario Lemina here, plus a debut for Pablo Sarabia, further creates a team Lopetegui can work with – especially if his other transfer window target, Flamengo’s Joao Gomes, can be kept out of Lyon’s clutches.
He clearly wants more width from Wolves’ passing, although he does have a week to work on that, with his side not involved in the FA Cup fourth round next weekend.
February will then be a crucial month, with Wolves taking on two sides presently below them, Southampton and Bournemouth, in successive weeks.
Certainly no-one could accuse Lopetegui of not being invested in his job. He was booked along with Neves for arguing over an incident when City’s Rico Lewis appeared to bring down Hwang Hee-chan, when the South Korean was about to set off on a long run towards to City goal before Haaland changed the direction of the contest.