Kevin De Bruyne’s four-goal haul saw Manchester City take a significant step towards the Premier League title on Wednesday night with a 5-1 win over Wolves at Molineux.
Pep Guardiola’s men marked his 350th game at the helm in perfect fashion, restoring their three-point lead at the top of the table after Liverpool had drawn level courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Tuesday.
Leander Dendoncker gave the league leaders a slight scare with an early equalising strike on Wednesday but it was his compatriot De Bruyne who shone above all else to inspire his side to a massive win, scoring four goals and completely terrorising a Wolves defence that usually remains resilient in the early stages of matches.
The hosts, whose manager Bruno Lage was once again absent from the dugout through Covid-19, came into the game boasting the best defence in the first 15 minutes of Premier League matches, but found themselves 1-0 down after just seven minutes.
Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne combined wonderfully down the left channel, the Portuguese sliding the ball into his colleague’s path before the Belgian stuck the ball into Jose Sa’s bottom corner with aplomb.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as the hosts counter-attacked to perfection to pull one back just four minutes later. Raul Jimenez released Pedro Neto beyond the backline and, waiting for midfield support, the forward picked out Dendoncker, who steamrolled into the box and fired the ball past Ederson.
Maintaining the thrilling tone of the opening exchanges, Guardiola’s side remained positive and continued to dominate, deservedly establishing a two-goal cushion by the 24th minute courtesy of another couple of goals from De Bruyne.
The midfield maestro sealed his brace in the 16th minute as he capitalised on Sa’s fumble to thrash the ball into the roof of the net via a deflection off the Wolves goalkeeper, and secured his first hat-trick in Manchester City colours eight minutes later.
Picking the ball up wide on the left, the superlative number 17 drove furiously inside towards goal before unleashing a rasping left-footed effort into the back of the net from 20 yards out, somehow keeping it cool with his subsequent celebration.
The visitors’ continued control of the game didn’t yield a fourth in the opening period but it looked as though they’d found it just three minutes after the resumption of play. However, Raheem Sterling had his celebrations cut short by the linesman’s flag after racing onto a Joao Cancelo pass and neatly slotting the ball home.
Not giving Wolves an inch, Guardiola’s men continued to hold the ball with typical authority and eventually wore them down to get that fourth just before the hour mark – guess who?
De Bruyne refused to rest on his laurels and, after playing Phil Foden through into the penalty area, carried on his forward run, eventually being rewarded as the ball sat up perfectly for him after a nick off a Wolves defender, allowing him to calmly caress his strike into the bottom corner.
If you thought City would be satisfied with four you’d have been wrong but, after Foden hit the upright and denied De Bruyne an assist to go with his poker, the visitors had to wait until the 84th minute to pile even more misery on their hosts.
A swift move involving some slick play between Jack Grealish and Cancelo down the right wing eventually finished with Sterling claiming an easy tap-in from the Portuguese full-back’s deflected hit across the face of goal.
There was still time for De Bruyne to smash the ball onto Sa’s post to threaten a fifth of the night, but City looked content enough to settle for a significant 5-1 victory that takes them three points clear of Jurgen Klopp’s Reds with two matches remaining.
A 39th game of the season? Not with City in this mood. Here’s how the players rated at Molineux…
GK: Jose Sa – 5/10 – Really should have done better with the second but had little chance with the other three.
CB: Jonny – 5/10 – With Chiquinho acting more of a winger when Wolves had the ball the Spaniard was stretched at times, making his job all the more difficult.
CB: Conor Coady – 2/10 – Couldn’t handle the opposition’s movement for the first goal, pulled out of position for the second, and altogether non-existent for the latter three – from hero to (near) zero.
CB: Willy Boly – 5/10 – Managed Sterling well to begin with, although began to look flustered once the Englishman found his feet in the game.
RWB: Chiquinho – 7/10 – Showed good physicality and looked really bright on the front foot, proving his side’s brightest player – an exciting prospect.
CM: Leander Dendoncker – 6/10 – Great finish to level the score early on but, like his midfield colleagues, couldn’t keep the centre of the pitch compact enough to stifle the visitors.
CM: Ruben Neves – 4/10 – Supposed to be the midfield general at the heart of the side, Neves disappointingly couldn’t get a grip on anything and let the game pass him by.
CM: Joao Moutinho – 4/10 – It’s rare to see him look his age, but the 35-year-old just couldn’t keep up with City’s blistering play.
LWB: Rayan Ait-Nouri – 5/10 – Never shied away from getting up the pitch but left his defensive colleagues exposed a little too much at times.
ST: Pedro Neto – 6/10 – Great play to tee up Dendoncker for the early equaliser but rapidly fizzled out of the game as the visitors started to dominate.
ST: Raul Jimenez – 6/10 – Showed good strength to hold play up – notably doing well in the build-up to his side’s early strike – but, apart from nearly scoring an absolute stunner with 20 minutes to go, couldn’t put his stamp on proceedings.
SUB: Trincao (72′, for Neto) – 5/10 – Barely got a kick of the ball.
SUB: Hwang Hee-Chan (72′, for Jimenez) – 5/10 – Nothing was going to overturn the game with 20 minutes to go.
SUB: Luke Cundle (85′, for Moutinho) – N/A
GK: Ederson – 6/10 – Not much he could do to keep the Wolves’ strike out and coped easily enough with anything else that came his way.
RB: Joao Cancelo – 6/10 – Solid at both ends and finally demonstrated his usual class with a prominent role in Sterling’s late goal.
CB: Fernandinho – 5/10 – Once again looked anything but natural in central defence and was caught out by the counter for Wolves’ equaliser.
CB: Aymeric Laporte – 7/10 – Stepped up to put in a resolute display at the heart of defence, notably making important last-ditch challenges in either period. Worryingly taken off with a knock to the knee after an hour.
LB: Oleksandr Zinchenko – 7/10 – Locked in a great battle with Chiquinho and largely fared well, managing five tackles.
DM: Rodri – 6/10 – Tidy in possession and, apart from in the 11th minute, was solid in screening his defence against Wolves’ potent counter-attacking threat.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 10/10 – Outrageously good at football and proved unmanageable for his opposition. Sensational in every facet of the game, and capped it off by netting four goals. Deserves much more than a 10/10.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 6/10 – A steady performance from the German but just completely outshone by his partner.
RW: Raheem Sterling – 7/10 – Grew into the game as time passed and put in a gritty shift to make an impact, registering three key passes and deservedly walking away with a tap-in and assist for good measure.
CF: Bernardo Silva – 7/10 – A creative threat throughout, floating around to occupy space between the lines and notably notching a classy assist for the early opener.
LW: Phil Foden – 8/10 – Made it so difficult for the hosts to keep tabs on him, showing fantastic movement and electric feet to give his opposition a torrid time throughout.
SUB: Nathan Ake (61′, for Laporte) – 6/10 – Slotted in seamlessly for Laporte, who had ice wrapped around his knee after being withdrawn.
SUB: Riyad Mahrez (77′, for Fernandinho) – 6/10 – Not as prominent as his fellow substitutes but had some nice touches here and there.
SUB: Jack Grealish (81′, for Foden) – 7/10 – Looked up for it and played a big part in City’s fifth.