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English Premier League

Manchester City 3 – 0 Wolves

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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.

English Premier League

Arsenal 4 – 1 Newcastle United

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Arsenal 4 - 1 Newcastle United

Arsenal underlined their Premier League title credentials as they recorded their sixth consecutive win with a dominant display against Newcastle.

The result sees Mikel Arteta’s side sit two points behind leaders Liverpool and a point behind second-placed Manchester City at the top of the table.

The outcome of this contest appeared inevitable from the moment visiting defender Sven Botman turned the ball in after Gabriel’s header from a corner had been well saved by Newcastle goalkeeper Loris Karius.

While there was an element of bad luck to that for the Dutch defender, who simply could not get out of the way as his Newcastle team-mate Tino Livramento tried to clear, there was little else about Arsenal’s performance that was owed to good fortune.

The Gunners’ intensity and fluent passing repeatedly carved Eddie Howe’s side apart, particularly down the Magpies’ left flank with Livramento and Botman enduring difficult evenings.

Kai Havertz swept in a deserved second shortly after, with Gabriel Martinelli making the most of indecision in the Newcastle defence to cut the ball back into the German forward’s path.

With Arsenal continuing to press, Bukayo Saka twisted and turned Livramento one way and then another before dispatching a left-foot shot into the bottom left corner add to the hosts’ advantage.

Arteta also enjoyed the luxury of being able to take off his captain Martin Odegaard, Havertz and Saka well before full-time after Jakub Kiwior’s effort deflected past the helpless Karius from another Declan Rice corner.

Newcastle, who remain eighth in the table, managed a late consolation courtesy of Joe Willock’s looping header, but there was little else for the visiting supporters to cheer.

-BBC

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English Premier League

AFC Bournemouth 0 – 1 Manchester City

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AFC Bournemouth 0 - 1 Manchester City

Manchester City moved a point behind Premier League leaders Liverpool with a hard-fought victory over Bournemouth at Vitality Stadium.

City started slowly but took the lead midway through the first half when Phil Foden steered home after Erling Haaland’s shot was saved by Neto.

The visitors dominated the rest of the half but were fortunate not to be pegged back early in the second, Marcus Tavernier scuffing a shot into the ground from Antoine Semenyo’s cross before shooting wide after fine work from Dominic Solanke.

Solanke had a header punched off the line by Ederson as Bournemouth continued to apply pressure, while Haaland had another shot saved by Neto with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Second-half substitute Enes Unal headed agonisingly wide in stoppage time for the hosts, as City held on to consolidate second place ahead of crucial games at home to Manchester United and away to Liverpool in early March.

Bournemouth, now without a win in their last seven league matches, stay eight points above the relegation zone but drop a place to 14th.

Champions get job done

Pep Guardiola’s team were made to work hard for three points against Brentford on Tuesday, and they were perhaps a little fortunate to get the win from a testing encounter at Vitality Stadium.

Haaland got the all-important goal against the Bees and the Norwegian should have given the visitors the lead here, sending a right-footed shot off target after running on to Foden’s exquisite cushioned pass.

Haaland was denied by Neto midway through the first half, but Foden – who has now scored in his past five appearances against the Cherries – was on hand to guide home his 16th goal of the season. That is his joint-most in a single campaign.

John Stones, operating in a more advanced role than usual, was outstanding in the first half in particular, repeatedly marauding upfield and almost setting up Rodri for a second City goal not long after Foden’s opener.

The visitors rode their luck after half-time as Bournemouth pushed for an equaliser, with a combination of wasteful finishing by the hosts and smart goalkeeping from Ederson securing City a hard-earned three points.

City have won all 14 of their Premier League games against the Cherries – the best 100% record by one team against another in top-flight history.

Their next five league matches – all against teams currently in the top seven – will go a long way to defining their campaign.

-BBC

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English Premier League

Manchester United 1 – 2 Fulham

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Manchester United 1 - 2 Fulham

Manchester United were given a harsh reality check at Old Trafford as Alex Iwobi’s injury-time effort gave Fulham only their second Old Trafford victory since 1963.

Four days after new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe spoke of United attempting to knock Manchester City and Liverpool off their perch at the top of the English game, they suffered a major blow to their hopes of Champions League qualification.

Without injured striker Rasmus Hojlund, the hosts were ineffective in attack until the final minute of normal time, when Harry Maguire seemed to have rescued a point for the hosts.

But Iwobi had the final say deep into nine minutes of stoppage time, restoring an advantage initially given to them by Nigeria defender Calvin Bassey, who lashed home the loose ball after his header from a Fulham corner had been blocked by team-mate Timothy Castagne.

The result ended a run of 11 Premier League away games without a win for the west London outfit. Prior to this contest, only Sheffield United had a worse top-flight away record this term.

Neither the defeat nor, more importantly, the performance, will give anyone the belief United will achieve Ratcliffe’s lofty aims any time soon.

A sobering reality
There have been a lot of bold claims out of Old Trafford this week.

Ratcliffe has spoken of challenging for major trophies, while Ten Hag has outlined how he and the new co-ownership are aligned in their thinking and the overall direction is positive.

There is nothing like a miserable grey, cold, wet Manchester day to add a large dollop of reality to the situation United find themselves in.

With injury consigning in-form Hojlund to the directors’ box, Marcus Rashford was forced to plough a lone furrow up front and made little impact. Ten Hag gave 19-year-old Omari Forson his first start rather than bring in underperforming £82m Brazilian Antony, while Victor Lindelof filled in at left-back in the absence of Luke Shaw, who is set to miss the remainder of the campaign with a muscle problem.

The performance did not smack of a side capable of securing Champions League football next season, which Ratcliffe has made a priority, let alone threatening Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, who are a long way ahead on this evidence.

Ineos head of sport – and new United football club director – Sir Dave Brailsford was at Old Trafford to see United roar back from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa on Boxing Day, one of two occasions this season when they had rolled back the years to produce a comeback of thrilling defiance.

When Maguire pounced in the final minute of normal time, it seemed another might be on the cards. United hardly deserved parity. Other than a first-half Diogo Dalot shot that flicked off the outside of a post, Marcus Rashford’s angled effort that Leno saved and a Maguire header that sailed over the bar, they had done little of any effectiveness around the Fulham box.

As it turned out, it was to be Fulham who had the final word. Today, there was no papering over the Old Trafford cracks.

A famous Fulham win
It is almost 12 months since Fulham’s visit to this stadium for an FA Cup tie that ended in chaos as manager Marco Silva and two of his players were sent off, and what was shaping up to be a famous victory turned into a controversial defeat.

While the visitors mercifully avoided any repeat of that discipline breakdown, they were forced to endure more frustration in a first half they dominated without being able to take one of the numerous chances that came their way.

In exploiting the space available in front of the United backline in transition, Fulham were given the freedom to get clear sights of goal.

Iwobi had two opportunities, the second in particular he should have done better with. Andre Onana saved from Rodrigo Muniz and former United midfielder Andreas Pereira. The Cameroon keeper probably earned his luck in the first instance, when the rebound struck Sasa Lukic at close range and the ball bounced inches wide.

Muniz, aiming to become the fourth Fulham player – after Louis Saha, Collins John and Manor Solomon – to score in four successive Premier League games, rolled Lindelof in the penalty area, then fired against the outside of a post with Onana beaten.

At the interval, the fear among the visiting contingent must have been that, after being so flat for so long, their hosts had to improve.

But they didn’t and Bassey lashed home his first Fulham goal with a decisiveness lacking from United’s play.

Even after Maguire’s leveller, Fulham would not be denied as Iwobi finally found the target to give the Cottagers a famous win.

-BBC

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