It would be foolish for any team to read more in the first game of the new season, but this was something of a litmus test for Manchester City and it just passed.
Kevin de Bryan’s penalty, a superb team goal was completed by Phil Foden and in the end Gabriel Jesus Clincher will prove to be enough to beat the stubborn Wolves, even if the pair of Nuno Espirito Santos pulled the goal through Raul Jimenez to reach the final stage. .
The Wolves were responsible for two of City’s eight defeats last season and were the type to struggle against Pep Guardiola’s players – the upper mid-table, defensively aligned and deadly on the counter-attack. Molinex, meanwhile, is probably the ground on which last season’s failed Premier League title defense finally fell apart.
That Christmas-time defeat in last season’s corresponding fixtures – arguably the best game of the top-flight season – gave City a 2-0 lead in the second half and with it the fugitive leaders’ failed hopes of capturing Liverpool. Yet nine months later, even though Molinex is empty rather than rocky, no collapse occurs.
The Wolves regained their strength after the break, but the damage was done mostly early. City effectively shook off their lack of pre-season – and three positive tests for first-team players over the last three weeks for Covid-19 – to pick where they left off as a form restart team.
It quickly became clear that the Wolves would have to be disciplined to get the result, City set up their half and took possession from the first City, but their resistance lasted only 19 minutes. Roman Sais is in trouble every time again and he went inside thinking to clip De Bryan on the right edge of the penalty area.
The ruling PFA Player of the Year scored his fifth straight successful penalty and a hard rifle to the left of Rui Patricio. It’s hard to say what’s even more surprising: City’s record from the spot was very poor – scoring just 10 penalties out of 16 in all competitions – or it took a long time to make De Bruyne their undisputed first pick.
The city was second to none, the kind of goal that only they and a few people are able to score at this level. All four members of Guardiola’s attacking quartet were involved in a short, sharp exchange, passing a touch on the edge of the box until Sterling slipped back and squared to finish the fodder.
Usually so compact and reliable, the Wolves defense burst. In contrast, newcomers Nathan Ake and John Stones barely broke a sweat in City’s new mid-half partnership.
Once Nuno takes a potentially weak link to City’s rearguard it will change at the start of the second half. Around the hour mark, a flurry of opportunities for the Wolves came down the left side of the city, each cutting back at the edge of a low and hard cross area. Trevor and young Pedro Neto were taking turns to harass Benjamin Mandy, but De Bruyne was the only left when the Wolves’ goal finally came.
After clearing his corner, Daniel Podens regained a loose ball and then bypassed Jay Bruin with a nutmeg. A cross bent on a nearby post from Olympiacos to the January sign for Jimenez – a relatively silent presence, to the point – that sent Aderson a previous official header.
The final wolves for the equalizer seemed inevitable but never transpired properly. Instead, it was Jesus who assured that all three points would effectively return to Manchester with the last kick of the evening. After using his power to win the loose ball on the left side, Sergio Aguero’s deputy escaped with a shot that went beyond Conor Cody and knocked out Patricio.
City breathed a sigh of relief last year. This time, they survived. Guardiola would hope this was a sign of things to come.
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