Manchester City have coped incredibly with the loss of big players to injury in recent seasons but the long term absence of Aymeric Laporte may prove a bridge too far even for this side. Of all the players to lose, Laporte would probably have been the last one on Pep Guardiola’s list and, after an afternoon when a magnificent Wolverhampton Wanderers brilliantly exposed City’s Achilles heel and handed Liverpool a huge advantage in the title race, those feelings will only have been reinforced.
After just eight games, Jurgen Klopp’s side have an eight point lead, and while last season’s experience will tell Liverpool that City are unlikely to disappear quietly, the champions really will have to produce something special if they are to avoid more days like this with Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of a fragile defence.
Norwich City took advantage of those failings at Carrow Road last month to record a shock 3-2 win but Guardiola’s team had not lost at home since December last year and this was the first time in 17 months that they had failed to score at the Etihad Stadium.
Wolves executed their gameplan quite brilliantly, with Raul Jimenez bullying Otamendi, and got their reward for a sterling day’s work with two late goals from the outstanding Adama Traore. Traore has plenty of attributes but you have watched him down the years and wondered if he has a football brain. But in a challenging right wing back role, he was superb offensively and defensively and took both of his goals so well on the break with just Ederson to beat.
City were their own worst enemies, with Otamendi routinely shooting himself – and his team – in the foot with kamikazee, slapstick defending. Laporte may be out until February or March but John Stones’s return after the international break cannot come soon enough. Otamendi cannot keep his place.
Wolves had threatened all afternoon and should have been in front long before Traore claimed his first. After a mistake by Joao Cancelo, Wolves released Jimenez, who had Otamendi backpedalling. There was a sharp intake of breath whenever Otamendi is isolated one on one, though, and watching him dive him was a wearily familiar routine. Jimenez skipped away and then squared for Traore to coolly slot home. And it was from a similar break as City pushed for an equaliser that Jimenez again fed Traore to produce an almost identical finish for the second. To play like this – at the home of the champions – after a 4,000 mile round trip to face Besiktas in the Europa League on Thursday really took some doing.
This was the poorest City had played at the Etihad since they last tasted defeat here, against Crystal Palace last December. Wolves had plenty to do with that, even if many of City’s mistakes were self-induced. Palace led 2-1 at the interval on that occasion and Wolves really also should have had a couple of goals to their name by the break. One of Guardiola’s less celebrated achievements at City was to turn Otamendi from a rash, impulsive, error prone centre-half into a defender of real note in his first title winning season but the Argentine looked every inch the old version of himself here: chaotic, in and out of possession, and poor positionally.
City can go weeks without conceding the number of chances they did against Wolves, most of them gift wrapped by Otamendi. The tone was set as early as the fifth minute when Otamendi got sucked in by Raul Jimenez, leaving Patrick Cutrone free to run in behind. A glorious chance to take the lead beckoned as Cutrone entered the area but, leaning back, he sliced his shot wide. Nuno Espirito Santo was furious on the touchline, motioning that the Wolves striker should have put his foot through the ball.
A lack of composure in front of goal was Wolves’s biggest enemy early on and a shame because they equipped themselves well – organised, forceful and ready to pounce on City’s lapses. Another arrived in the 20th minute when Jimenez seized on a stray pass from Riyad Mahrez that almost had Guardiola on his knees. Jimenez surged forward and was greeted just outside the penalty area by the bewildering sight of Otamendi collapsing to the ground in front of him – it was not a reckless lunge, more of a bizarre fall. Only Otamendi will know what he was trying to do but Jimenez sidestepped him with ease. Fortunately for the City defender, Fernandinho – superb throughout – had come round to cover and produced a superb block to deny Jimenez and then a second with his head moments later to thwart Cutrone on the rebound.
Otamendi was all over the place by this stage and, two minutes later, a sloppy pass intended for Fernandinho was intercepted by Jimenez, who raced away. Fernandinho gave chase and there was the slightest nudge from the Brazilian on the Wolves striker as he shaped to shoot before going to ground but Jimenez was guilty of delaying his shot too long.
Jimenez never let those misses affect him, though. This was a masterclass in how to lead the line, even if Otamendi made his life easier.
It was the little things about Otamendi that will concern Guardiola as much as the obvious blunders – trying to play offside when there was no hope of successfully doing so, getting caught on the wrong side of his opponent and routinely failing to jockey defenders.
City only had one real chance of note in the opening 45 minutes, with Raheem Sterling forcing a diving save from Rui Patricio, but it was telling how few clear cut opportunities they created and a measure of the quality of Wolves’s management of the game. Even as City pushed and probed in the second half, and Wolves got pegged further back, they dealt impressively with the pressure – never looking ruffled, happy for their opponents to have the ball but conceding little space or ground in their final third.
David Silva hit the crossbar with a free-kick after Ruben Neves had brought down the Spaniard and, in the next passage of play, Aguero and then Sterling had shots blocked. Bernardo was also denied at close range by a superb block from Joao Cancelo’s pull back. Wolves’ defending was both astute and heroic. The question was whether they could finally demonstrate the same calmness in front of goal that they did defensively. The answer to that was an emphatic yes. Manchester Cityv.Wolverhampton Wanderers
- General Play
- Defence & Discipline
- Goals00%100%2Total Shots (including blocked shots)1872%28%7Shots On Target250%50%2Blocked Shots1083.3%16.7%2Shots from outside the box975%25%3Shots from inside the box969.2%30.8%4Shot Accuracy (excluding blocked shots)25%25%40%40%
Man City v. WolvesPossession12.1%48.7%39.2%76.1%23.9%
- 30Nicolás Otamendi
- 27João Cancelo
- 2Kyle Walker
- 21David Silva
- 26Riyad Mahrez
- 7Raheem Sterling
- 8Ilkay Gündogan
- 10Sergio Agüero
- 9 Gabriel Jesus
- 20 Bernardo Silva
- 11 Oleksandr Zinchenko
- 11Rui Patrício
- 15Willy Boly
- 27Romain Saïss
- 16Conor Coady
- 37Adama Traoré
- 29Rúben Vinagre
- 8Rúben Neves
- 32Leander Dendoncker
- 28João Moutinho
- 10Patrick Cutrone
- 9Raúl Jiménez
- 2Matt Doherty
- 5Ryan Bennett