With his four-goal burst and "Zen" celebration, Kevin De Bruyne did his best impersonation of a future Manchester City teammate on Wednesday.
Erling Haaland is joining City next season as one of the most sought-after strikers in world soccer and even he would be hard-pressed to produce the kind of finishing demonstrated by De Bruyne in a 5-1 rout of Wolverhampton to maintain City's Premier League title charge on Wednesday.
After the Belgium midfielder completed his hat trick — his first for City — by the 24th minute, he celebrated with the “Zen” pose made famous by Haaland in recent years at Borussia Dortmund.
De Bruyne said it wasn't necessarily a nod to Haaland — “I just did it because I'd scored three," he said — but they already appear to be on the same wavelength.
That is for the future, though.
The short term is all about retaining the title, and City restored its three-point lead over Liverpool with the win at Molineux. Pep Guardiola's team needs four points from its final two games — against West Ham and Aston Villa — to guarantee first place but its superior goal difference of 7 might mean three points is now enough.
City might be running out of defenders, however, after Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho — a midfielder who filled in at center back — came off with what Guardiola described as “problems.” Center backs Ruben Dias and John Stones as well as right back Kyle Walker are already out for the rest of the season because of injury.
Guardiola does, though, have De Bruyne in sublime form.
“In the second part of the league, he has been beyond perfect,” Guardiola said. “He was always a guy who is so generous and has the sense to make an assist, but I think this season he has the sense to be prolific and score goals.”
De Bruyne, who also struck a shot against the post late in the second half, said the title race with Liverpool is “crazy.”
“The standard we both set, you can only respect it,” De Bruyne said. “Both teams have the ultimate respect. We play hard, it’s the only thing we can do.”
It was also a big night at the bottom of the standings, with 10-man Leeds losing 3-0 to Chelsea to remain in the relegation zone in third-to-last place and Everton drawing 0-0 at Watford to move two points clear of the drop zone.
Just like in its 2-1 loss at Arsenal on Sunday, Leeds was hampered by another first-half red card because of a reckless tackle — this time by winger Dan James.
Already trailing from Mason Mount’s fourth-minute goal, Leeds was reduced to 10 men in the 24th when James made a wild lunge on the ankle of Mateo Kovacic.
Leeds’ American coach, Jesse Marsch, couldn’t hide his frustration on the sidelines and Chelsea made his team pay, with Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku adding second-half goals.
“We have to be aggressive against the ball," Marsch said. “We have to try to win balls and sometimes now we’ve been a little too aggressive in certain situations and that has cost us.”
Leeds is behind Burnley on goal difference having played one game more, with its remaining two games against Brighton and Brentford.
Kovacic is likely to miss the FA Cup final against Liverpool on Saturday, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said.
Jamie Vardy scored twice to help Leicester beat last-place Norwich 3-0.
Leicester snapped a seven-game winless run in all competitions and moved into 10th place.
Norwich has already been relegated along with Watford.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80