Wolves almost certainly ended Manchester City’s hopes of retaining the Premier League trophy on Friday evening, completing an impressive comeback against the champions.
City were down to ten men early on as Ederson received a red card for clattering into Jota outside of his penalty area. The Portuguese chased down Conor Coady’s excellent long ball and Ederson rushed out at full speed, mistiming and misreading the situation. Even worse for City, Sergio Aguero was sacrificed for Claudio Bravo to enter the field.
The ten men took the lead in controversial circumstances on 25 minutes when the VAR adjudged that Leander Dendoncker had fouled Riyad Mahrez. Raheem Sterling had not one but two attempts from the spot saved by Rui Patricio after the first stop was ruled out for encroachment into the area – only for Sterling to slot home the rebound of his second attempt.
Sterling scored his second of the evening minutes into the second half, latching onto an excellent through ball from Kevin de Bruyne and dinking over Patricio in the Wolves goal.
However, a Sterling mistake allowed Adama Traore to pull one back less than ten minutes later and the winger unleashed a powerful shot from distance to make it 2-1. Benjamin Mendy was the next City player to make a costly individual mistake, allowing Traore to shrug him off the ball and cross for Raul Jimenez to equalise for the hosts.
The comeback was complete with just minutes left on the clock when Matt Doherty was given far too much space to drift in from the right flank, before smashing home with his left on the edge of the box. The Premier League’s comeback kings had turned it around to seal a 3-2 victory against the current champions, despite Sterling hitting the bar with a late free kick.
Key Talking Point
Resilience has been a hallmark for this Wolves side since Nuno Espirito Santo took control, and it was there for all to see. Ederson’s dismissal and City’s change in shape made it difficult for Wolves to find a way through their opponents for much of the first hour, while the VAR controversy seemed to take the wind out of their sails for a period.
However, they stuck at their task and found space in between the City lines by moving their wide players inside and pushing their wing-backs much further up the pitch. It worked to perfection and allowed them to exploit the space between midfield and defence, and the wing-backs and centre-halves.
One man was at the heart of it all…
Starting XI: Rui Patrício (7); Dendoncker (6), Coady (7), Saïss (7); Doherty (8), Neves (6), João Moutinho (7), Otto (6); Traoré (8*), Jiménez (8), Jota (7)
Substitutes: Vinagre (6), Neto (6), Bennett (5)
After sinking City with a double in their last encounter, Adama Traore was at it again – this time scoring once and providing the assist for the equaliser. In truth, Wolves were sleepwalking through much of the game until Traore upped the intensity.
— Tim Spiers (@TimSpiers) December 27, 2019
City’s resolute shape meant that Wolves needed the Spaniard’s pace and power to drag their defenders out of position, something he did excellently by drifting between the lines and driving at speed with the ball. His technical improvements were evident with his sweet strike from distance, while his desire to win the ball back from Mendy for the equaliser shows why he is so loved by the Wolves faithful.
Key Talking Point
Whatever game plan Pep Guardiola had, it went out the window when Ederson’s rash decision forced him into withdrawing Aguero on his return from injury.
However, the Spaniard reacted quickly and changed his side’s shape to a 4-4-1, with Sterling the lone striker and the likes of Mahrez, De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva attempting to break with speed. Silva dropped in alongside Mendy to create a back five at times – especially as Wolves ended the first half with their strongest spell of the match.
Guardiola 531/441 block. Bernardo LB. Can’t believe what I’m seeing. Will be interesting to see a different City.
— HS (@HalfSpaceFtbl) December 27, 2019
Guardiola was in the unfamiliar situation of being on the back foot and dominated by his opponents. The City manager made a bold decision at half time, replacing Mahrez with Eric Garcia to rebuild his side’s shape as a 5-3-1.
Their second-half game plan revolved around digging in, but the formation enabled the wing-backs to push on and move City up the pitch during spells of possession. There was an excellent discipline within the shape, which was sadly undone by individual lapses of concentration.
Starting XI: Ederson (2); Walker (6), Fernandinho (6), Otamendi (7), Mendy (7); De Bruyne (7*), Rodri (7), Bernardo Silva (6); Mahrez (6), Agüero (5), Sterling (7)
Substitutes: Bravo (6), Garcia (6), Gundogan (6)
During a quiet and subdued Manchester City performance, Kevin de Bruyne‘s brilliance was easy to see. He deserves the accolade of Star Player for his defensive-splitting assist alone, put the chance to double City’s lead on a plate for Raheem Sterling – such was the timing of it.
Phenomenal pass from De Bruyne. Made it look so simple. One timed that. Perfect timing & touch into Sterling’s path.
KDB is such a special player.
— Alex Goldberg (@AlexGoldberg_) December 27, 2019
No player has provided more league assists in Europe’s top five divisions this season than Kevin De Bruyne (11).
Another delightful pass. 襤 pic.twitter.com/5GMtVGL3zM
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 27, 2019
There was much more to De Bruyne’s performance though, and he showed his commitment to the cause in a fairly unfamiliar role alongside Rodri in the flat midfield four. He covered plenty of ground and used his talents on the ball to minimise City’s turnover of possession, despite their inferior numbers.
It doesn’t get any easier for Wolves, who head to Anfield on Sunday to face Premier League leaders Liverpool. An away fixture at Watford follows, before the Wanderers welcome Manchester United to Molineux in the FA Cup third round.
Manchester City, meanwhile, welcome Sheffield United and Everton to the Etihad in their next two league fixtures, before Port Vale’s visit in the FA Cup. A Manchester derby follows, as City travel to Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.