CITY BELOW PAR
Champions tamed as Wolves make their point
IT says much for Wolves that the last time Manchester City endured an afternoon as frustrating as this away from home in the Premier League was way back in February. Pep Guardiola’s side had racked up seven successive top-flight wins on their travels since drawing at Burnley six months ago, but Wolves were in no mood to roll over just because the Premier League champions were in town.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side played with tremendous energy, belief and courage, and fully deserved a point that was celebrated like a victory at the final whistle. “We’re on our way back” reverberated from the massed ranks of gold shirts inside Molineux and it was hard to disagree at the end of a thrilling game of football.
There was a slice of good fortune with Willy Boly’s goal, which clearly went in off the central defender’s arm and should also have been disallowed for offside, but it was hard to begrudge Wolves that bit of luck on a day when they caused City plenty of problems with their pace on the counter-attack.
Guardiola’s side dominated the ball — they had 79 per cent of possession — but Wolves certainly could not be accused of parking the bus. They were prepared to commit players forward at the right time — the pace of Helder Costa and Adama Traore caused plenty of problems — and Wolves may even have snatched three points at the end, when Diogo Jota’s ferocious shot flashed inches over the bar.
Having levelled through Aymeric Laporte’s first goal for the club, City could also have won it at the death, with the relief among the home supporters almost tangible when Sergio Aguero’s 25yard free-kick hit the top of the crossbar. That was the second time Aguero hit the woodwork and the third occasion for City in total, with Rui Patricio producing an outstanding save in the first half to tip Raheem Sterling’s swerving half-volley on to the bar.
Yet the champions were far from freeflowing here and although Guardiola said he was happy with the chances City created against a 5-4-1 system that has proved difficult for them to break down in the past, the Spaniard admitted his side were nothing like as comfortable without the ball. Vincent Kompany had a particularly disappointing opening 45 minutes.
“We didn’t control the counter-attacks quite well today, but it is a good point because of the quality of the opponent,” Guardiola said. “I think we created enough chances to win the game. But I’ve not too many regrets. Maybe a bit of a lack of rhythm sometimes. But in general I am satisfied with the performance.”
Although Guardiola could be seen speaking to Martin Atkinson, the referee, immediately after the match, the City manager had no desire to discuss Boly’s controversial goal or get involved in a debate about whether the Premier League should have implemented video assistant referee technology. City also had a couple of penalty appeals turned down, although on one of them Aguero was lucky not to be booked for diving.
From Espirito Santo’s point of view, his game-plan worked perfectly. “I think it was a good performance overall,” the Wolves manager said. “We were playing against the best team, so we had to stick together, cover, reduce the space and always have balance. There are tasks for the players — rules — that give you order and safety and confidence to play. So when we had the ball we created chances and played good football. If there’s a but, after we score we should manage better the next few minutes that put City in control of the game.”
In a bright opening 25 minutes that set the tone, Raul Jimenez had a goal ruled out for offside before City went straight up the other end and hit the woodwork twice in quick succession. Aguero swept a low shot against the upright and then came that Sterling effort, which was swerving towards the top corner until Patricio, stretching every sinew, flicked it on to the bar.
Boly’s dubious goal arrived after Costa, scampering clear on the left, saw his angled shot pushed into the side-netting by Ederson. City seemed to be caught out by the short corner that followed, with Joao Moutinho’s delivery exposing some poor marking. Matt Doherty got the slightest of touches before Boly, attempting a header, nudged the ball over the line with his right arm.
City were only behind for 12 minutes. Ilkay Gundogan, who was later replaced by Leroy Sane as Guardiola chased victory, swung in a fine free-kick from the right and Laporte, with a free run at the ball, headed powerfully home. Gabriel Jesus, another City substitute, later nodded straight at Patricio but Wolves held on for a point that felt like three.
Wolves defender Willy Boly is congratulated after opening the scoring against Manchester City at Molineux yesterday.