The only way is up

Alis­son bril­liance sends Klopp’s men clear at the top as ‘hand­ball’ goal de­nies City

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By James Ducker at Mo­lineux

If any­thing il­lus­trated Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight fire with fire here, it was the sight of the sprin­klers be­ing brought out at half­time to give the Mo­lineux pitch a good wa­ter­ing.

How many clubs opt to do that against Manch­ester City, given their predilec­tion for a fast, slick sur­face? Plenty of op­po­nents favour keep­ing the grass dry and let­ting it grow against City, any small ad­van­tage in an at­tempt to dis­rupt the cham­pi­ons’ rhythm, but Wolves made it very clear that there would be no de­vi­a­tion from their own vi­brant play­ing phi­los­o­phy.

There are sea­soned Premier League cam­paign­ers who have been spooked by a meet­ing with City but Nuno Espir­ito Santo’s pro­moted side showed not a glimpse of fear and their re­ward was a much de­served point from a highly en­ter­tain­ing game.

Sure, they en­joyed a few slices of good for­tune, no­tably for their goal, with Willy Boly’s hand­ball go­ing un­de­tected and a cou­ple of penalty ap­peals that City had waved away, and their goal­keeper, Rui Pa­tri­cio, also had a day to re­mem­ber.

But while Pep Guardi­ola kept a lid on any frus­tra­tions with the of­fi­cials, even if he seemed to be sim­mer­ing with in­dig­na­tion be­neath the sur­face, the City man­ager will prob­a­bly be the first to recog­nise what a good job Wolves did against his side.

From press­ing high, with their wide play­ers, Helder Costa and Diogo Jota, do­ing an ex­cel­lent job of en­gag­ing City’s cen­tre-halves, to the in­tel­li­gence and vi­sion of the su­perla­tive Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in cen­tral mid­field, Wolves en­sured City were never go­ing to have things all their own way.

The pos­ses­sion statis­tics again heav­ily favoured City but it did not al­ways feel like that watch­ing this game, which spoke vol­umes for the ef­fi­ciency with which Wolves used the ball and the pace and pre­ci­sion with which they at­tacked. As Kyle Walker, the City de- fender, said: “It will be hard for teams com­ing here, even if they might do so prob­a­bly ex­pect­ing to win.”

Ser­gio Aguero hit the wood­work twice for City, in­clud­ing clip­ping the top of the cross­bar with a free-kick in stop­page time, but even when Guardi­ola sent on the cav­alry, with Gabriel Je­sus, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez all en­ter­ing the fray, Wolves re­fused to panic. Yes, Je­sus should have scored with a header from close range from Ben­jamin Mendy’s cross, only to be de­nied by an­other fine stop from Pa­tri­cio, but Wolves had chances of their own and, in the main, oozed co­he­sion.

“This game has to do with the base we cre­ated last sea­son, es­pe­cially at home,” San­tos said. “We want to cre­ate a team and build some­thing, an iden­tity, that every­one at Wolves – the play­ers, coaches, fans – share.”

It was a game that daz­zled in quick­fire bursts. Vincent Kom­pany had as hard a time as any and it was his blun­der, con­ced­ing pos­ses­sion to Moutinho, who kick-started the counter with a first-time pass to Jota, that al­most pre­sented Wolves with an open­ing goal. Jota swept the ball from the left across the six-yard box to Raul Jimenez but Wolves’ No9 was ruled off­side as he tapped home.

It speaks vol­umes for the threat City pose that mo­ments later Wolves were for­tu­nate not to be two goals down. First Aguero hit a post and then Pa­tri­cio made the first of his ex­cel­lent saves when he tipped a 25-yard vol­ley from Ra­heem Ster­ling on to the cross­bar.

Costa was de­nied by a fine save from Eder­son af­ter the Wolves for­ward showed Aymeric La­porte a clean pair of heels but, from the re­sult­ing cor­ner, the home team went in front. Moutinho’s short cor­ner was rolled back to him by Neves and his cross was a beauty. Ryan Ben­nett missed his header but Boly stole in be­hind to score. Ini­tially, it looked like a fine div­ing header, but re­plays showed the de­fender had scored with his arm.

“Last week [against Le­ices­ter] it hap­pened against us, so this is foot­ball,” San­tos said. If Guardi­ola was fu­ri­ous, he man­aged to bite his lip, just as he was un­will­ing to dis­cuss two penalty ap­peals his team had turned down for ap­par­ent trips by Neves and Moutinho on David Silva and Aguero re­spec­tively.

Guardi­ola was one of those in favour of the in­tro­duc­tion of the video as­sis­tant ref­eree in the Premier League this sea­son and what he wit­nessed here will only have ce­mented that view. “It is none of my busi­ness,” he said. “The Premier League will de­cide when they de­cide that VAR will be here.” Pressed on ref­eree Martin Atkin­son’s fail­ure to spot the hand­ball and the penalty ap­peals, Guardi­ola said: “I’m not a ref­eree, sorry, I never will be.”

If San­tos had one com­plaint, it was his team’s re­ac­tion to go­ing in front. City were al­lowed back up­field too eas­ily and, from a free-kick in a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion, La­porte rose above Boly to head home Ilkay Gun­do­gan’s cross.

“If we had a ‘but’, af­ter we score we should man­age bet­ter these min­utes,” San­tos said. “We should have re­cov­ered some balls that we didn’t but it’s a grow­ing process.” It is and Wolves are grow­ing fast.

Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers (3-4-3) Pa­tri­cio 8; Ben­nett 7, Coady 7, Boly 7; Do­herty 6, Moutinho 8, Neves 8, Jonny 6 (Vi­na­gre 85); Costa 7 (Traore 72), Jimenez 8, Jota 7. Subs Ruddy (g), Gibbs-White, Saiss, Hause, Bona­tini. Booked Coady. Manch­ester City (4-3-3) Eder­son 7; Walker 6, Kom­pany 5, La­porte 6, Mendy 6; Silva 6, Fer­nand­inho 6, Gun­do­gan 6 (Sane 77); Bernardo 6 (Je­sus 62), Aguero 7, Ster­ling 6 (Mahrez 85). Subs Muric (g), Stones, Delph, Ota­mendi. Booked Kom­pany, Silva. Ref­eree Martin Atkin­son (West York­shire).

Worth ev­ery penny: Liver­pool’s £65mil­lion Brazil­ian goal­keeper Alis­son cel­e­brates af­ter his late save from Pas­cal Gross sees off Brighton at An­field

Con­tro­ver­sial goal: Willy Boly gives Wolves the lead against Manch­ester City but closer in­spec­tion (inset) showed that the ball found the net via his arm

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