MAN CITY 3, WOLVES 0
Erling Haaland silenced the doubters in some style after the Manchester City striker went three games without a goal.
There was a consensus by some that teams had worked out how to nullify the Norwegian after the extraordinary start to the City career.
But a fourth Premier League hat-trick against Wolves, which made it four goals in the last two games, saw Haaland back on track in what could well be a record-breaking campaign.
Haaland’s four league trebles have come in only 19 games – exactly half the season – as he equalled Harry Kane’s total and only one behind record holder Alan Shearer who hit five in a season.
Compare Haaland’s exploits to how long it took other players to score four Premier League hat-tricks, the next quickest is Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 65 games, Luis Suarez 81, Shearer 86 and Robbie Fowler 89.
He also made it 25 league goals for the season, enough in half a season to have won the Premier League’s golden boot in each of the last four seasons and 31 in all competitions. He has also netted more than twice the number of league goals Wolves have amassed.
Haaland’s efforts helped second-placed City cut leaders Arsenal’s lead temporarily to two points, though the Gunners have played two less games.Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep described Haaland’s goalscoring feats as “incredible stats”.
He said: “When we lost in the Community Shield to Liverpool people said he will not adapt to the Premier League, he doesn’t score goals and is a problem.
“We knew his quality and we had to adapt to him.”
Guardiola was happy with the response to his criticisms following the first-half display against Tottenham three days earlier, but added the reality is they are still behind Arsenal.
John Stones talked about City’s pursuit of Arsenal, saying: “I think it’s just about us, I’ve said it plenty of times. We can be our own worst enemies at times.
“We have to be focused. We can see where we are and keep taking it game by game. We are the champions for a reason, and we want to be champions again so we have to put ourselves in the best place possible, keep winning games and getting clean sheets and see where it takes us.”
Guardiola made two changes to the side that came from behind to beat Tottenham 4-2 in the Premier League on Thursday.
Kevin de Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte were unused substitutes in midweek, but both took their place back in the starting line-up. Nathan Ake and Julian Alvarez dropped to the bench.
Wolves’ boss Julen Lopetegui decided on six alterations after the third round FA Cup defeat by Liverpool on Tuesday.
Midfielder Mario Lemina, the club’s new signing from Nice, took his place in the side but winger Pablo Sarabia, who joined from Paris St-Germain earlier this week, was on the bench.
Hwang Hee-Chan, Nelson Semedo, Max Kilman, Matheus Nunes and Hugo Bueno were added to Lopetegui’s team.
It was a somewhat fractious opening in which Wolves has Max Kilman, Mario Lemina and manager Lopetegui booked as they were intent on preventing City from getting any rhythm and fluency to their game.
Indeed, it took City almost 20 minutes before carving out their first clear chance when De Bruyne slipped in Haaland whose shot was well saved low down by Jose Sa who also denied Jack Grealish by beating away his fierce drive.
Wolves defended resolutely until City made a 40th minute breakthrough when Haaland rose above Nathan Collins at the far post to head home De Bruyne’s cross.
It was also De Bruyne’s 11th league assist of the season, more than any other player has provided in the top flight, and 16 in all competitions.
City claimed a penalty not long after when Grealish looked to be caught by Collins. Referee David Coote waved play on and VAR backed up the match official.
Grealish almost added a second when he cut in from the left and his shot beat Sa only for Collins to head off the line.
Lopetegui’s bold response was to make a triple change for the restart while City made one as Rico Lewis was replaced by Ake.
But hopes of getting back into the game were dealt a blow when Wolves conceded an early penalty following Ruben Neves’ trip on Gundogan.
Haaland sent Sa the wrong way from the spot as he made it 30 goals for the season and 24 in the league, enough to have won the golden boot in each of the last four seasons, and it is only January.
And Haaland completed his fourth hat-trick of his debut season in the 54th minute after a poor clearance by Sa was intercepted by Mahrez who provided the assist for a simple finish.
The Norwegian’s work was done after an hour when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez.
City thought they had added a fourth goal but Mahrez had strayed marginally offside when set up by De Bruyne. It was a delightful finish by the Algerian as he dinked the ball over Sa who not long after saved well from Alvarez.
Guardiola made two further switches with 13 minutes left as Rodri and De Bruyne were replaced by Kalvin Phillips and Bernardo Silva.
City’s fifth and final change in the 81st minute was Cole Palmer for Mahrez who had another excellent match as the game petered out with victory having long been assured.