Manchester City may not have the title wrapped up – they may not even be top of the Premier League yet – but on the evidence of this rout of Manchester United it’s a fait accompli.
That is not to diminish leaders Arsenal’s impressive start to the season, continued in a deserved win over Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday that ensured they remain one point clear.
But if City and the monstrous Erling Haaland can reproduce the devastating form unleashed on their neighbours on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, no team will be able to come close.
Haaland and Phil Foden both helped themselves to hat-tricks as the champions tore to ribbons a United side that had looked reborn when beating Arsenal just a few weeks ago.
Any slim hope for the chasing pack rests on City’s weakness for giving up goals, with the three they shipped in the second half meaning they are conceding at a rate of one per game.
Haaland and City run riot
The marriage of City’s intricate attacking play under Pep Guardiola and the prolific Haaland always promised to be explosive but few could have predicted quite how well he would start.
Haaland has added a knuckleduster to City’s velvet glove. The result has been 17 goals in his first 10 games, including a Premier League record three consecutive home hat-tricks. To put that in perspective, if he keeps this up for a 50-game season he will score 75.
Focusing on his size is to overlook his intelligence and deft touch, but he used his 6ft 5in frame to great effect against United, heading his first from a corner and meeting Kevin De Bruyne’s arcing cross at full stretch for his second. He sealed his latest treble by guiding in a low cross.
Worryingly for City’s opponents, the Norwegian is developing a sideline in assists, too.
It wasn’t all about Haaland, of course, with the sparky Foden and purring De Bruyne also responsible for pulling United’s pants down time and again.
Foden set City on their way in the eighth minute by clipping in Bernardo Silva’s low centre, made it 4-0 just half-time by tapping in when Haaland turned creator to finish a sweeping move, and took advantage of statuesque United defending to gather the forward’s pass and rattle his third past David de Gea.
After an underwhelming international break with England, it was a timely answer to his critics from Foden.
United fight back but still much work to do
It is more likely that this was City being very good than United being awful, but the visitors did not cover themselves in glory.
If four Premier League wins in a row, culminating against Arsenal, gave the impression that new manager Erik ten Hag had settled in then results since – two defeats and a win over Moldova’s FC Sheriff – have shown there is much still to do.
United were pulled apart with ease by City, especially in a first half that sent visiting fans streaming for the gates even before the interval.
At times there was simply a vast expanse where their midfield was meant to be and De Bruyne, Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Grealish and Haaland gleefully exploited that gap.
It makes it stranger, then, that Casemiro, a player acquired for £70m in August precisely because he offers world-class protection in that area, is yet to start a league game.
Those United fans quick to leave missed their three second-half goals, the first a peach from Antony whose ferocity took Ederson by surprise and found the far corner.
Substitute Anthony Martial proved more effective than a rusty Marcus Rashford, nodding in when Ederson spilled Fred’s shot and slotting a late penalty.