Wolverhampton Wanderers may be the Old Gold but the Golden Boot is destined for an altogether newer force. With four months of the season remaining, Erling Haaland’s fourth hat-trick of the campaign means he already has 25 Premier League goals, two more than the tally required to top-score in the division in each of the last three seasons.
A 14-minute treble took his tally for Manchester City to 31 in all competitions, and with nine days of January remaining. After ending a 333-minute wait for a goal against Tottenham on Thursday, he made the debate if City are a worse team with him appear ridiculous with an exercise in predatory ruthlessness.
He transformed a difficult game against obdurate opponents into a rout and did so with enough time that Pep Guardiola could rest him for the final half-hour. He may have taken pity on the often toothless Wolves. They have only scored 12 league goals all season, and Haaland mustered a quarter of that total in a quarter of an hour to defeat them.
Like many a great goalscorer, his exploits come amid a blur of statistics. It is already the case that only Alan Shearer has scored more trebles in a Premier League campaign than Haaland. In half a season in the division, he has more than Cristiano Ronaldo got in seven and a half. It has long seemed a formality that he would pass the 23 goal-tallies that Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Heung-Min Son mustered in their prize-winning campaigns, and just a question of where and when.
To do so with 18 games to go suggests Haaland could end up with nearer 50 than 40. He was watched by a player who twice reached a half-century in a season, but even Wolves’ record scorer Steve Bull did so in lower divisions and including cup competitions.
It helps, too, that City can ally the top scorer with the top creator. Kevin de Bruyne extended his total of assists to 11 by chipping a cross to the back post. Haaland rose above Nathan Collins and, for the second successive match, scored a close-range header. It was the fifth league goal the Belgian has set up for the Norwegian this season; unsurprisingly, no duo have proved more potent. Their double act had almost brought a breakthrough earlier, with Jose Sa blocking Haaland’s shot after De Bruyne’s defence-splitting pass.
Haaland’s previous fastest treble for City had taken all of 19 minutes; he beat that with a penalty after Ruben Neves tripped the advancing Ilkay Gundogan and a tap-in after Sa passed straight to Riyad Mahrez and, with rather greater intent, the winger picked out Haaland.
After Haaland departed, a rampant De Bruyne sought more assists. An unused substitute against Tottenham on Thursday, he sent Mahrez clear when the winger dinked a shot over Sa but had the goal disallowed for offside. He was the provider when the goalkeeper denied Julian Alvarez.
By then, City’s first-half frustration felt increasingly distant. Wolves had begun with such intent to be awkward opponents that they had three bookings inside a quarter of an hour, including manager Julen Lopetegui and Max Kilman, who flattened Gundogan with a shoulder barge. They formed a compact block in front of the box, trying to stop City playing through them. And so, aided by De Bruyne’s crossing, City instead went both around the sides and over the top, with Haaland’s height showing how he has added another dimension.
Collins made a goal-line clearance on the stroke of half-time, heading Jack Grealish’s shot away, and had distinguished himself amid the early resistance. Wolves had gained defensive reinforcements, though Craig Dawson may have been relieved his move from West Ham was completed too late for him to be involved.
Lopetegui had already suffered one 4-0 defeat to City this season, when in charge of Sevilla, and with better finishing from Gundogan, there may have been a repeat. While his side were only 1-0 down at the break, they had not mustered a shot and the Spaniard showed his frustration his forward line by removing all three of them.
Perhaps switching to a midfield diamond opened the game up but one of the replacements, Pablo Sarabia, would have capped his debut with a goal but for a fine block by Nathan Ake. Daniel Podence, who came on later, was denied by Ederson with a cheeky chip and left the goalkeeper wrongfooted with a shot into the side-netting.
But, in a meeting with the team who are the lowest scorers in the division and the player who has the most goals, there was an air of predictability about the outcome.