The Premier League weekend commenced with the clash of the Titans from last season. That Manchester City produced football from a new world is well documented. At the same time, Wolverhampton Wanderers were securing their return to the Premier League doing likewise in the Championship.
Their boss, Nuno Espiritu Santo was confident enough to name an unchanged side for the third time in succession, while Pep Guardiola tinkered a little, demoting Stones and de Jesus to the bench in favour of Kompany and Sterling. Sane and Mahrez were also on the support cast.
David Silva was looking for his 50th goal in his 251st match and, of course, Sergio Aguero was looking to increase his goals scored record.
Wolves had nothing to fear in this match. The pundits heralded it as a “free shot”, without reference to the fact that the first team to “nil” City last season, was the team from the Black Country in the Carabao Cup.
The early exchanges were comparatively even. Sterling’s control let him down twice when ideally placed, bringing premature endings to promising attacks. But Wolves too paraded some lively lads up front notably Jimenez, Costa and Jota.
They too had a pressing game with four in midfield intent on denying space to City’s creative players and then try to set up counter attacks from higher positions.
It worked as early as the 11th minute when a poor pass from Fernandinho caused Kompany to take one for the team and find his way into the referee’s notebook. During this period both Gundogan and Mendy were found wanting defensively as Wolves took the game to the Blues to the extent that after 19 minutes Kompany surrendered the ball in midfield and set up a “two-against-one” against Laporte. Jimenez did put the ball in the back of City’s net but had strayed offside.
From the restart, City flew out of the traps and Aguero, when well-placed to score, hit the post with the excellent Patricio beaten. Indeed 2 minutes later, Sterling’s curling effort had “goal” stamped all over it before the Portuguese keeper flew in to tip it onto the bar.
City took more control in the middle part of the half but couldn’t get themselves into a clear scoring opportunity as Aguero and Bernardo had chances blocked by Boly at the back for Wolves.
One thing of detrimental note was that on the 43-minute mark Mendy was penalised for a foul throw. This is professional football at the highest level and not only was he a yard into the field of play but he also lifted his back foot. Not brilliant eh?
So as the teams went in at the break, the hosts had once again held City to a scoreless period.
The second half got under way with City knocking at the door, but it was Wolves who went ahead after 56 minutes. First off, Costa, clean through, brought a good save out of Ederson. The Resultant corner was headed on by Doherty and was diverted in by the hand of Boly, who was also offside. I’ve often said that City have to play against the referee every week, but now we have to include the linesmen in that. This was a shocking piece of referee-assisting and left us once again screaming out loud for the maligned VAR.
City were feeling a sense of injustice and this was exacerbated moments later when Aguero went down in the box, but his sheepish look at the referee told the story. He wasn’t touched.
On the hour, Bernardo was replaced by de Jesus, with Pep clearly needing some inspiration to get his side to score. Quick feet by Sterling dumbfounded the Wolves defence forcing the foul and from the free kick, Gundogan found the unattended Laporte whose powerful header left Patricio for dead.
Santo decided it was time to introduce Adama Traore, often refereed to as a speedboat without a driver and in his cameo, he was to cause a lot of discomfort to Mendy, who in my opinion was shocking today. His defensive frailties were exposed time and again today, looking more like Kolarov than a man costing a fortune. Fair play to Laporte, he had to cover for him on a number of occasions, getting dragged out of position for his troubles and leaving Kompany exposed.
Guardiola for reasons best known to himself elected to bring on Sane for Gundogan and he too was simply awful. Only once did he not give the ball away and one run mazy run apart, he contributed nothing.
The run ended in a free kick for City from which Aguero once again hit the woodwork and signalled City’s last effort of the match.
I have to say I was impressed with Wolves approach. No back nine here, but a formation that started off at 3-4-3 and ended at 5-4-1, but the moved upfield with ease and purpose whereas at times City looked laboured as Wolves chased them down early in midfield. Wolves are lively and dangerous up front and uncompromising in midfield and play in a way that other teams in the Premier League should take note of.
City did have chances to win, but their profligacy cost them. When you get the chances like the free-header afforded to de Jesus, you have to score them. Heading it straight at the keeper is not acceptable. The Blues had enough of the ball, but were not ruthless enough in front of goal and found Wolves a robust team to play against.
The opportunities handed to Wolves really arrived from poor full back play. Mendy was the most mentioned player in my notes and on each occasion, they were not for positives. Walker too looked a bit lost when the runners weren’t available and on occasions got caught in possession.
It was difficult to see who was City’s most valuable player. If he’d scored, without doubt, it would have been Aguero, but on reflection for his goal and the fact that time and again he was forced to cover Mendy, I’m going with Laporte.