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Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-5 Manchester City (Dendoncker 11′ | De Bruyne 7′, 16′, 24′, 60′, Sterling 84′)
MOLINEUX — Kevin De Bruyne struck a stunning 17-minute hat-trick, as part of a four-goal masterclass, and celebrated with a tribute to his incoming team-mate Erling Haaland.
Manchester City’s Belgian star marked his first ever hat-trick for the club by mimicking the Norwegian striker’s goal celebration, a neat tribute the day after the club confirmed his £51.1m signing.
It was a vital contribution for Pep Guardiola’s side, struggling with defensive injuries and looking to respond to Liverpool drawing level on points at the top of the table 24 hours earlier.
And, as De Bruyne took his season tally to a career-best 19 goals, it might even have left City supporters asking “Erling who?”
But City had to battle back after gifting Wolves an 11th minute equaliser that cancelled out De Bruyne’s opener.
The goal came from a City attack as the hosts broke upfield through Raul Jimenez and Pedro Neto’s cross picked out Leander Dendoncker for a cool finish.
With City using 37-year-old midfielder Fernandinho as an emergency centre-half, the leaders looked under pressure but De Bruyne’s magnificent composure, and some poor Wolves marking, ensured Guardiola edged closer to the title.
De Bruyne started the move for the seventh minute opener, playing a skilful one-two with Bernardo Silva and racing through to leave Jose Sa with no chance in the Wolves goal.
And five minutes after conceding, City were back in front as De Bruyne played a through ball, Sterling seemed to pull out of a challenge with Sa but the keeper could only deflect the ball into the path of the Belgian to convert.
The pick of the bunch was De Bruyne’s hat-trick goal as Sterling and Rayan Ait-Nourri wrestled for possession.
De Bruyne picked up the loose ball and found space opening up before him, advancing to the edge of the area and finishing with a superb 20-yard shot.
There was more defensive anxiety for City before the hour when Aymeric Laporte twisted his knee in a challenge with Jimenez and had to be replaced by Nathan Ake, himself struggling with an ankle problem.
An injury for Laporte could, conceivably, leave Guardiola without a recognised centre-half for their final two games, at West Ham and at home to Aston Villa.
But, after Sterling had an effort ruled out for offside, de Bruyne struck his fourth on the hour, starting a move which ended with him converting a Phil Foden cross.
A clumsy trip on Ait-Nourri earned De Bruyne a 77th minute booking and there was time for somebody else to muscle in on the scoresheet as Sterling turned in Joao Cancelo’s deflected shot six minutes from time.