De Bruyne hits four as Manchester City thrash Wolves to keep cushion at top
After Kevin De Bruyne rolled in his and Manchester City’s fourth goal, Pep Guardiola jumped into the arms of his assistant, Rodolfo Borrell. By then Guardiola had already ditched the mammoth black puffer coat, and the gloves have long been off in their pursuit of retaining their Premier League crown.
De Bruyne’s peerless performance helped restore City’s three-point advantage over Liverpool at the top and there are now only two hurdles between them and a fourth league title in five seasons. Raheem Sterling added a fifth goal with seven minutes to play but it was De Bruyne, who borrowed Erling Braut Haaland’s meditating celebration as he completed a 17-minute first-half hat-trick, fuelled this spectacular and unerring rout of Wolves.
In retrospect, given the mood he started in here, flashing a brilliant ball across the box that was a split-second from picking out Phil Foden with barely a minute on the clock, perhaps it should not have been a surprise that De Bruyne chalked up his first Manchester City hat-trick inside 24 minutes, the third quickest from the start of a game in Premier League history. Every outfield City player joined him to celebrate each goal, the third of which was a beauty.
It stemmed from a City throw-in. Joao Cancelo located Raheem Sterling, who was challenged by Rayan Ait-Nouri, and when the ball spilled free De Bruyne gleefully took over the baton, taking a few purposeful strides and carefully nudging the ball into a shooting position before rattling a curling shot into the bottom corner with what is supposed to be his weaker left foot. Then came the celebration, surely a nod to City’s new superstar. Welcome to Manchester.
De Bruyne got things up and running at the end of a typically calculated City attack. Bernardo Silva, who operated as a false 9, flanked by Foden and Sterling, slipped De Bruyne through and he stroked a low finish into the far corner. Guardiola clenched both fists.
It was the perfect start but Wolves replied four minutes later when Leander Dendoncker capped a fine counterattack. Raul Jimenez powered forward from halfway before spreading the ball wide. City’s makeshift back line did not cover themselves in glory. The 37-year-old Fernandinho, who partnered Aymeric Laporte at centre-back, could not prevent Jimenez from finding Pedro Neto and he centred for Dendoncker to coolly finish.
It would have made pleasing viewing for Bruno Lage, who, together with his brother and assistant, Luis Nascimento, and Tony Roberts, the goalkeeping coach, was watching on a couple of miles away at Wolves’ training base, as the trio continue to test positive for Covid-19. Guardiola retreated to the away dugout and glugged some water. He did not need to fret.
City regained the lead when the purring De Bruyne leathered in from close range, after the Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa presented him with the ball on a plate after failing to deal with his clever pass through for Sterling. Oleksandr Zinchenko sent a teasing cross into the box from the left that forced Willy Boly into a smart clearance but City continued to probe, Wolves struggling to break their endless chain, and De Bruyne completed his hat-trick without breaking sweat.
The thing about De Bruyne is he makes it all look so easy, merely par for the course. With 10 minutes of the first half to go, the game as good as over, he went haring after the ball, on a one-man mission ready to prey in case of a Wolves slip in defence.
There was the odd scare – Zinchenko and Fernandinho were thankful for the referee, Martin Atkinson, siding with them after tussles in the box in each half, while Laporte raced back to pilfer the ball as Jimenez surged through towards Ederson – but this was an otherwise pristine performance from City, all in white. The only potentially sour note was Laporte departing on the hour following a collision with Jimenez.
Sterling thought he had added the fourth two minutes into the second half but strayed offside before racing clear and applying a composed finish. Inevitably, it was he who would source City’s fourth, and, again, he was involved in the buildup. Foden’s cross forced a panicked clearance by Ait-Nouri and De Bruyne was on hand to slot in.
Ederson made a fingertip save to deny Jimenez, moments after Foden rattled a post as City went for the jugular. Sterling somehow failed to finish after reading Foden’s low cross and instead crashed into a post as he attempted to sweep in a fifth. Sterling tapped in a fifth after good work from Cancelo and smacked the woodwork on 88 minutes. For City, there is simply no let-up in this race.