Last summer’s flagship signing scored and so did this year’s. Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland are side-by-side in Manchester City forward line and in their squad numbers but the similarities end there. The Norwegian’s habitual, inevitable strike, took his tally to 14 goals in just 10 games for City. Grealish, who joined 12 months earlier, has half as many – seven goals – in 13 months. The striker is prolific, the winger accused of being unproductive. If Grealish needed a goal, Haaland didn’t but scored one anyway. He always does.
Phil Foden struck as well, but on a weekend when Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United are not playing, City only really needed to perform for the first 16 minutes, in which Grealish and Haaland secured victory. If the striker’s presence on the scoresheet was predictable, the surprise came in the manner of his goal – a first from outside the box in City colours for the king of the penalty area – amid a role reversal. The predatory, close-range finish came from Grealish, the sort he has scored too rarely in a City career where his £100m fee has been a millstone and where he has been neither the maverick Aston Villa cherished nor a player imbued with added efficiency by Pep Guardiola.
But on a return to his native Midlands, Grealish scored in the first minute to take City into first place. They can make wins routine affairs but their away record is extraordinary. They are unbeaten in 22 league matches on their travels now. While Haaland continues to rack up remarkable numbers, becoming the first player to score in his first four Premier League games on the road and taking his tally for Borussia Dortmund and City to 100 goals in 99 outings, City’s collective excellence can pass unnoticed.
For Wolves, a familiar fate nonetheless assumed worrying proportions. There was a time when they were a bogey team for Guardiola’s City but it feels increasingly distant. Bruno Lage’s goal-shy team have made a slow start to the season and looked feeble amid a sloppy beginning to the game. Such force as they displayed came from Nathan Collins, who was dismissed for a kung-fu kick where he contrived to plant his studs into Grealish’s stomach. It was dangerous and reckless rather than malicious but his three-game ban brings into question Lage’s decision to exile Conor Coady. Ruben Neves spent the remainder of the game at centre-back after Collins’ departure, which scarcely represents the best use of his talents.
Admittedly, Wolves conceded fewer goals with the playmaker at the back. They were eviscerated when Collins was still on the pitch. If Grealish was stung by criticisms of his poor display against Dortmund, his riposte was immediate. The minute’s silence lasted longer than the period of parity, with Wolves behind inside 55 seconds. Foden released the overlapping Kevin de Bruyne with a backheel, the Belgian crossed and Grealish arrived inside the six-yard box to supply the poacher’s finish.
It was scarcely a typical Grealish goal but the sort Guardiola has long trained his wingers to score: this was more of a Raheem Sterling strike or, given the new emphasis on a striker, a Haaland goal. And instead, the target man, who has scored hat-tricks from a cumulative distance of under 20 yards, showed he can expand his repertoire. After the astonishing acrobatic volley against Dortmund came a first goal from long range, albeit in rather less spectacular style. He bobbled in a shot on his less-favoured right foot after latching on to Bernardo Silva’s pass. Seemingly getting a taste for it, he had a second shot from a similar range parried by Jose Sa.
Collins’ undignified exit exacerbated the sense it was a mismatch. City did not display the vengeful streak that might have turned it into a rout, settling for one more goal, set up by their magnificent provider. De Bruyne got four goals on his previous trip to Molineux. He ended a return with two assists, both from low right-wing crosses. Foden converted the second superbly, angling a shot in.
It gave them as many goals in an afternoon as Wolves have scored this season. There were glimpses of spirit in the second half and Collins’ early exit was a mitigating factor but theirs was a powder-puff performance. Shorn of a striker with Raul Jimenez out for a few weeks, Sasa Kalajdzic sidelined for six months and with this week’s signing Diego Costa not even deemed fit enough to appear on a bench padded out with kids, Lage fielded the irregular scorer Daniel Podence alone in attack. Some 30cm shorter than his City counterpart, Haaland, they are separated in stature and goal tallies. If no one else has a Haaland, the problem for Wolves is that no one has fewer goals than them.