Make no mistake, this game certainly falls into the “potential banana skin” bracket for Manchester City.
Wolves have taken a respectable, if not impressive, 9 out of 21 available points against the top 6. City need to be at their imperious best here. Wolves are coming into the game having taken 10 points from their last possible 18, but the results have been very hot and cold in that period. From an impressive 1-3 victory away to Spurs, to a miserable 0-2 defeat at home to Crystal Palace, thus proving how indifferent Wolves can be.
Wolves have several key men that City need to be cautious of. Ruben Neves has his ‘Etihad audition’ to replace Fernandinho when the time comes for him to leave/retire, so expect a typical Neves performance – pulling the strings from deep and looking to dictate play. Fernandinho will have to be at his brilliant best to not let Neves have the time he wants on the ball, and be pressed into making errors. Adama Traore could be the wildcard for Wolves with his blistering pace and unpredictability. He could cause City huge problems on the counter attack if he is at his marauding best. Matching Traore’s pace is next to impossible with our current left-back options, however Aymeric Laporte’s defensive qualities may stand out for Pep Guardiola over a relatively natural full-back.
Pep has described Wolves as a “physical team, good from set pieces and strong on the counter attack.” All those qualities were on show in our first encounter with Wolves back in August, when the home side came away with a deserved point. Willy Boly had given Wolves the lead through a goal that on further reflection, shouldn’t have stood due to a handball. However, City fought back with a set-piece goal through the in-form Aymeric Laporte.
Since the turn of the new year, City have looked back to their best. Is this just a coincidence given that Fernandinho has returned to the side? Probably not! For this game, City need to be every bit as good at stopping counter-attacks as we were against Liverpool with Monday night’s away side having a similar style to that of City’s title rivals. The last two games have left Pep with a slight selection dilemma with every player putting faultless performances on show for the Catalan. Ederson, Laporte, Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva are the only players that are 100% certain to start with the latter winning the official club Player of the Month award for December. With Wolves’ pace on the counter-attack, Guardiola will require pace in his own side, especially in defence. Kyle Walker may be preferred over Danilo, despite the Brazilian’s impressive performances in recent games. Despite lacking Premier League game time, Kevin De Bruyne is Kevin De Bruyne, and will be absolutely essential to maintaining the pressure on the current league leaders Liverpool. The Belgian may be chosen in favour of David Silva, despite the Spaniard doing no-wrong when he has started for the blues.
I expect City to dominate the ball in this one with Wolves sitting back, soaking up Manchester City’s pressure and aiming to hit them on the break. An early goal could be crucial for City, with that forcing Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves to open up, allowing for City to impose themselves even further on the game. Reaching the 40 minute mark without an opening goal could allow for nerves to creep in, especially with Liverpool claiming all three points in their game against Brighton on Saturday. I’m predicting that we will City at their best and go on to get a 3-0 victory.
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