De Bruyne fulfils the Haaland role as Manchester City crush Wolves and close on the title

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

In a strange way, Kevin De Bruyne scoring four goals showed what Erling Haaland will bring to Manchester City and why they need it. Stick with us…

Time for one of the occasional peeps behind the curtain we allow you of the in-depth F365 editorial process. “Do something on City. Might be dull. Try and link to Haaland somehow,” were the instructions from on high for tonight.

Couple of ways that could have worked, obviously. City not winning at all would have done it. Could have stroked my beard and said something like “See, even though Manchester City have scored all of the goals this season there are still these vital games where they miss that out-and-out goalscorer.” Easy to write, off to bed at a civilised hour, and on we go. Lovely. Only downside would have been the rekindling of Liverpool’s Quadruple hopes which, despite Guardiola’s assertion to the contrary, is not something everyone in this country wants to happen.

A narrow, unconvincing 1-0 win for City would have perhaps been ideal, then. The goal being scored in the 83rd minute by a defender if we’re being really greedy. Easy to make that about Haaland as well.

What we didn’t need was Manchester City winning 5-1. What we definitely didn’t need was Kevin De Bruyne scoring his first Premier League hat-trick within the opening 24 minutes – the third fastest from kick-off in the league’s history – and helping himself to a fourth for good measure on the hour. Really, we’re proud of ourselves for getting to the fourth paragraph of this before ceding to the inevitable and talking about De Bruyne. We gave it a good crack.

What an absurd performance from an absurd footballer. And if it hadn’t been for De Bruyne, we’d have absolutely had our easy Haaland story. City created chances at will against a Wolves side who offered plenty on the few chances they had to attack but were pulled apart at the back. Yet for all that City’s only five shots on target were their five goals. And Raheem Sterling’s stat-padder of a fifth came at the end of a night where he had struggled horribly in front of goal. De Bruyne had taken his four goals with such unfussy clinical brilliance that you could forget he was playing in midfield and had never scored three never mind four in a Premier League game.

Man City hammer Wolves Credit: PA Images
Man City hammer Wolves Credit: PA Images

There were two opportunistic poachings of loose balls in the penalty area but also a precise striker’s finish across the keeper to open the scoring and a fizzing, whippy 20-yarder to complete the hat-trick with just 24 minutes gone. But the creative side was there as well. Had Sterling or Phil Foden been as precise and composed in front of goal as De Bruyne was then the scoreline would have been uglier still for Wolves and De Bruyne’s statistics even more absurd.

This was also a game that highlighted other less-discussed features of De Bruyne’s game. The craft, the touch, the vision are well known, but his physicality can often go unnoticed when set against his ‘ordinary’ appearance and silkier skills. He drew a “human after all” from the commentary team barely half an hour into the game for committing a foul which he pretty much intended to commit. This must make it both a) one of the earliest examples of a “human after all” in any game of association football but also b) a rare one issued for something that was barely an error. In the absence of a heavy touch or misplaced pass, you have to take what you can.

And that’s where we find ourselves. Because there’s still a Haaland angle here, if you squint hard enough. This was a game that City won 5-1, in which one player scored four goals and yet it was still one that showed the merits of adding a proper striker back into the City mix. Even though you sort of suspect De Bruyne could actually do it if need be.

Haaland’s arrival is going to making things extraordinarily difficult for everyone else. If he produces anything like the numbers he has in his career to date – and that’s not an absolute given as he moves into a league of demonstrably greater depth and higher overall quality but is still really very likely – then City become close to unstoppable. Their vulnerability – such as it is – this season has been a slightly fragile defence in which injuries and absences have seen an occasional weakness not just in personnel but also in certainty and assurance. When those defensive frailties – and we’re talking very, very minor weaknesses here because City are clearly quite good – have been combined with the games where the tricky, clever players can’t get the job done in front of goal then City can suddenly look ever so slightly beatable.

And this performance was almost one of those. The defence was shaky. Wolves’ instant response to De Bruyne’s opener was well worked but poorly handled by the champions elect and was not an isolated moment of strife. And at the other end plenty of promising openings and chances came and went. The difference, clearly, was De Bruyne. Without him, City might easily have handed Liverpool a title lifeline. With him, they have almost shut the door on the only team capable of getting anywhere near them. De Bruyne in essence produced the performance Haaland will be tasked with producing on nights like these from now on. City will have yet another possible solution to a problem that only barely exists.

The article De Bruyne fulfils the Haaland role as Manchester City crush Wolves and close on the title appeared first on Football365.com.

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