There was a Wolves fan in the main stand, he stood clapping until every last white shirt had disappeared down the tunnel. One in particular. He was carrying the match ball, which he bounced once on the pitch surround, before departing.
Only then did the awed Wolves supporters make their way to the exits, too. They had seen the champions, they believed, and they had seen the one man that embodies their ethos and their brilliance. They had seen Kevin De Bruyne, at his very best.
Four shots, four goals. He missed one, after that. Well, he hit a post. And that’s glossing over the three assists he should have had if his team-mates were as clinical. What a performance this was. What a player he is. He is carrying them to glory, if not single-handed, then certainly standard in hand, leading from the front. This is a special player, at a special peak.
Manchester City have gone three points clear at the top of the Premier League table after beating Wolves 5-1 away from home
Kevin De Bruyne was the star of the show on Wednesday evening after scoring four of Manchester City’s five goals
The Belgium international opened the scoring in the seventh minute of the game and added his second (above) in the 16th
Mo Salah is the Footballer of the Year and nobody is arguing that. He’s been wonderful, too. If Liverpool end up having the last word on the season by winning the Champions League, Salah will look the smart choice. Yet, equally, if Manchester City close the season out with De Bruyne is this type of form, we may look back and wonder why these decisions have to be made before the final chapters are written. De Bruyne right now, in May, is a deciding factor and in title races, it most definitely is not just how you start but how you finish.
To that end, Pep Guardiola may be worried that his defensive injury list is increasing. Aymeric Laporte went off on Wednesday night, and Fernandinho, too. City finished with Rodri beside Nathan Ake, who is also carrying a knock. Against this, Guardiola has De Bruyne on a one-man mission to ensure Liverpool’s quadruple continues to exist purely in the realms of the imagination.
He had a hat-trick in the opening 24 minutes, then added a fourth just at the point when it seemed Wolves’ counter-attacking speed was starting to trouble City. And throughout, he teed his team-mates up, too. A perfectly weighted pass for Phil Foden could have been number five in the 67th minute, but the young man hit a post. He really should have scored.
However, between those two goals, Leander Dendoncker did manage to claw one back for the hosts in the 11th minute
De Bruyne went on to score Manchester City’s third goal and confirm his hat-trick in the 24th minute of their league game
Roles reversed, De Bryune made no mistake. Foden cut one back for him in the 59th minute and when the ball clipped a defender and fell into the path of De Bruyne, he made certain he put Wolves out of the game with the fourth. Raheem Sterling finished them off with six minutes remaining after Jack Grealish had slipped the ball inside to Joao Cancelo. Sterling popped up at the far post to tap into an unguarded net. And to think Wolves away was regarded as a tricky one for City. They made it a game in the park, carefree, bouncing the ball on the way home for tea; well, one man did.
It is some act that Erling Haaland has to follow, although fortunately for his ego, it is not the act of a centre-forward, but of a midfield player who scores goals. Yet what goals. The first-half in particular showed De Bruyne simply separating from the rest. He scored an 18 minute hat-trick here, all with his left foot.
Supposedly, that’s the weaker of the two. That’s the type of player he is. He can score the third quickest hat-trick from kick-off in Premier League history without even using the right boot he prefers. And this is the player City will be pairing with Haaland next year, when De Bruyne’s goals will supplement the assists he creates for the new man. De Bruyne even marked a goal on Wednesday night by mimicking Haaland’s yoga celebration, a nuanced welcome to the club. What a club it is going to be if this is any indication.
He went on to extend his fourth and final goal of the game before helping his side secure their final goal of the night
Sterling missed a few opportunities in the second half to score but did provide the final nail in the Wolves coffin with the fifth
Why is De Bruyne so adept with his left? The story goes that as a young boy his right was doing a lot of damage to the plants and flowers in his neighbors garden. The gentleman asked if he could show more restraint. Perhaps, when playing out back, he might only use his left? The result? A cracking left foot, too, and probably a lot more headless roses.
Certainly De Bruyne took Wolves off at the shoulders on Wednesday night. Any hope on Merseyside that Wolves – something of a bogey team who have only lost four of their last eight meetings with Manchester City, and won twice – might spring a surprise were swiftly squashed.
Wolves (5-3-2): Sa 5; Chiquinho 6.5, Otto 6, Coady 5.5, Boly 6, Ait-Nouri 6; Dendoncker 7, Neves 6, Moutinho 6.5; Neto 7 (Trincao 72, 6), Jimenez 6 (Hee-Chan 72, 6)
Subs not used: Hoever, Marcal, Mosquera, Silva, Ruddy, Gomes, Cundle
Manager: Bruno Lage 6
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson 6; Cancelo 7, Fernandinho 6.5 (Mahrez 77), Laporte 7 (Ake 61, 6.5), Zinchenko 7; Rodri 7, Gundogan 7; Sterling 7, De Bruyne 9.5, Silva 8; Foden 8 (Grealish 81)
Subs not used: Steffen, Jesus, Egan-Riley, Mbete, Palmer, Lavia
Manager: Pep Guardiola 7.5
Referee: Martin Atkinson 6
Wolves equalized after City’s early opener, but conceded the second almost as quickly and when De Bruyne added the third before half an hour, a feeling of resignation set in. On nights like this, City are simply too good to contain. Going forward they look as if they have an extra player or two the movement is so special. De Bruyne is like having three extra men, on his own. So calm, so easy.
And it’s not just about his scoring. Either side of his goal were two outstanding chances that De Bruyne conjured for his team-mates. City followers will be imagining that either, or both, will go in when Haaland is in the team. Just three minutes gone when De Bruyne whipped a ball across the six-yard box, just out of reach of Foden’s outstretched boot. It should have served as a warning, but went unheeded. Wolves gave De Bruyne more room than they should, and he took them apart.
His first goal came with just six minutes gone. A clearance from goalkeeper Jose Sa was won by Oleksandr Zinchenko in the air. It fell to De Bruyne who with a cheeky flick found Bernardo Silva and continued his run, driving towards the penalty area. Silva played him in, a lovely slide rule of a pass, and De Bruyne lashed it past Sa with an assurance that would make the majority of goalscorers jealous. Maybe even Haaland.
Yet Wolves are resilient, as they proved at Chelsea on Saturday, and within five minutes were back in the game. Undoubtedly, City are vulnerable with Fernandinho deployed as a centre-half.
He had already been turned with spectacular ease by Raul Jimenez and he needs a strong line guarding him in defensive midfield.
That is not what City had in Rodri as Wolves countered. He missed his tackle and Pedro Neto was away. He squared for Leander Dendoncker in the middle and he made no mistake. Wolves were level but with De Bruyne in such brilliant form, it could not last.
And didn’t. Another five minutes elapsed and City’s lead was back. De Bruyne was now getting close to assisting his own goals. No City player actually hit the ball between his forward pass, and his conversion for the second. It was another delightful lob, intended for Sterling, but Sa got there first. He could only push it out to – you guessed it – De Bruyne, who fired the ball low into the net.
The third? Now this was a real peach. Joao Cancelo took a throw on the right, Sterling was nailed in a tackle but got the ball to De Bruyne, and he did the rest. He cut inside before unleashing a fabulous shot that left Sa utterly defeated. It was his first hat-trick for Manchester City and only Sadio Mane and Dwight Yorke have got there quicker from kick-off in the Premier League era. You’ll note they are both strikers, though. The half ended with De Bruyne setting up Sterling who was in a great position but chose to fall cheaply under the slightest pressure rather than score. He got what he deserved: nothing. That might change next season as well.
One of Sterling’s most notable missed came when Foden played the ball to him at the back post and he collided with the post
Relive the action with Sportsmail’s live blog on the Premier League clash between Wolves and Manchester City.