The look on Phil Foden’s face said it all as Kevin De Bruyne gave Manchester City breathing space in a breathless title race. The Blues youngster pointed at his incredible teammate and shook his head in disbelief as he helped the Belgian maestro celebrate a 24-minute hat-trick.
De Bruyne added a fourth in the second half and that remarkable quadruple puts City three points clear of chasing Liverpool, with both teams still having two games to play. The Blues cannot clinch the title at West Ham on Sunday, but they can go within a point of doing so – and their ever-widening goal difference advantage over Jurgen Klopp’s team, now standing at seven, means they might not even need that.
De Bruyne celebrated his hat-trick goal with an Erling Haaland-style celebration. a nod to the Borussia Dortmund hitman who will join the Blues this summer. The big Norwegian is expected to bring even more goals to the party for the Blues, but De Bruyne made it plain that there is a standard to be met when it comes to finishing!
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What made De Bruyne’s feat all the more remarkable was that his first three goals came with his so-called “weaker” left foot. Legend has it his friend’s dad would only allow him to play football in his garden if he used his left foot, as he was fed up of the more powerful right peg crashing the ball into his flowers.
These days he is not battering blooms, simply smashing opponents – and he was the width of the post away from a fifth that would have equalled the Premier League goalscoring record in a single match. Patrice Evra said this week that City lack leaders – and if he meant shouty, fist-pumping, sinew-straining tough men, he might have a point.
But De Bruyne is a leader in his own right, a man who leads where it truly matters – out on the pitch. He now has 19 goals for the season, three better than his previous best for a season – not bad for a man who openly professes that he prefers setting up goals for others to netting them himself.
De Bruyne took all the plaudits for his tour de force in the first half, but there was a stellar supporting cast, with Oleks Zinchenko, Bernardo Silva, Foden and Raheem Sterling all tearing chunks out of the Wolves pack. Yet again the Blues scored early to quell a few nerves, and yet again it was De Bruyne who struck.
Zinchenko won an important header near halfway and De Bruyne was onto it, before feeding Bernardo and continuing his run down the inside-left channel. The Portugal international checked for a split-second to make his pass perfect and then slid it with mathematical precision into the path of his teammate. The finish into the far corner was never in doubt.
The City fans, occupying the full pitchside tier, went nuts, but the joy was short-lived. The Blues sought a second but when their next attack broke down, Wolves broke at lightning speed.
Recent memories of Adama Traore streaking away from City defenders on the break have subsided since he left to join Barcelona, but the Midlanders still have some real speed merchants and with the City back four boasting 37-year-old Fernandinho and with both full backs pushed high, they had plenty of opportunity.
Pedro Neto led the charge this time, haring into the space vacated by Joao Cancelo’s natural attacking bent, and he had time to weigh his options before sliding the ball across for Leander Dendoncker, who made no mistake.
But with De Bruyne in world-shaking mood, it was only a matter of time before the Blues restored the lead. Zinchenko was again involved, chipping a smart pass to De Bruyne in space – and when he fed Sterling in space, he wisely continued his run. The England man’s shot was blocked by Sa but that only carried the ball onto that “weaker” left foot – and De Bruyne smashed it home.
With Laporte forced into a fantastic recovery tackle to deny the pacy Chiquinho, and Zinchenko making and more risky challenge that brought loud penalty appeals, the threat of another equaliser was all too real.
De Bruyne took that particular matter into his own hands, carving in from the right and neatly placing his hat-trick goal into the far corner to make it 3-1. That took him to 18 goals for the season, the best tally of his career.
Wolves refused to lie down and with City’s defence having a few problems with their enterprise and pace, and the losing Aymeric Laporte to a worrying knee injury – being replaced by Nathan Ake, himself not fully fit – the answer was to keep scoring at the other end!
De Bruyne notched his fourth, again finishing a move for which he had been the architect. His pass had freed Foden on the left, and when his cross, intended for Sterling, was cut out the irrepressible midfielder gratefully snapped up the loose ball and despatched it into the corner.
Wolves continued to fight hard, and City were dangerous on the break, Foden hitting a post from another De Bruyne set-up and Sterling missing an open goal from Foden’s cross.
Sterling finally got his goal, courtesy of a stunning City move, as Ederson hammered a pass to sub Riyad Mahrez, whose silken touch sent Cancelo away. He combined with Jack Grealish, strode on into the box and freed Sterling, who – even with his boots apparently on the wrong feet – couldn’t miss this one!