The only way is up
Alisson brilliance sends Klopp’s men clear at the top as ‘handball’ goal denies City
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