Wolves frighten Manchester City in feisty draw as Vincent Kompany shows his age
WOLVERHAMPTON, England -- Three quick thoughts from Wolves 1-1 Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Wolves discover blueprint to battle City
This season, you will see a few teams write off their games against Manchester City, saving their exertions for another, theoretically more winnable day. But Wolves, playing their third game back in the top flight after promotion, were not one of those teams. Granted, Willy Boly's opener should not have stood as it was possibly offside and definitely a handball, but an enterprising and fearless performance from the home side warranted a little luck and they got it.
Hopefully, the rest of the Premier League will watch this game and take inspiration from a Wolves team who struck the right balance between logical caution and intense proactivity. City weren't particularly off their game, but Wolves were absolutely on it, and by the end were even pressing for a winner.
They took the lead early in the second half through a controversial Boly goal, and although Aymeric Laporte's header salvaged a point for City, this was a terrific showing from Nuno Espirito Santo's side.
Wolves had the ball in the net after 20 minutes, when Vincent Kompany made a horrendous error to let in Diogo Jota, but Raul Jimenez was offside when he turned in the deflected cross-shot. City then went desperately close twice in a minute, Sergio Aguero hitting the post before Raheem Sterling struck a brilliant half-volley which required an astonishing save by Rui Patricio, diving up and to his left, to keep from the top corner.
As expected, City had more of the ball and came close a couple more times, but it was Wolves who took the lead, in the opening stages of the second half. But the goal should not have stood: Joao Moutinho's fine in-swinging cross from the left was diverted in by Boly, but the cautious nature of the initial celebrations perhaps showed he knew the ball had gone in off his hand.
Shortly afterwards, David Silva was shoved over in the box, but no penalty was given. City were aggrieved, but they were level before too long, Laporte battering home a header from a nicely flighted Ilkay Gundogan free kick.
City rolled out the big guns after that: Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez all came off the bench, so that for the last 15 minutes or so they were basically playing with four up front, and David Silva as one of two midfielders.
Aguero hit the bar with a late free kick, but they couldn't punch through. Everyone else, take note: this is how you play against City.
2. Kompany past it?
Of the themes that ran through All Or Nothing, the glossy documentary about last season at Manchester City, one of the most prominent was Kompany. The Belgian recently celebrated 10 years at the club, the last player signed before Sheikh Mansour bought City in 2008, and the documentary showed just how well-loved the captain is in that half of Manchester.
Kompany has become an institution, the father of the dressing room and the man to whom, to one extent or another, the squad still turns.
But while he might be a sage old head off the pitch, on it he now just looks old. Three times in the first half Kompany, 32, made the sort of errors you generally only see from players past their best: one a lunging challenge that got him booked, one was the disallowed goal and another a blind pass that set Wolves up for another chance. The buzzing Wolves' forward line targeted Kompany, like predators picking off the weakest in a pack of bison.
Things didn't improve much after the break. He appeared to be marking neither man nor useful area when Boly scored for Wolves, and when a City attack was cleared his way, he dithered, before launching the ball pointlessly up in the air. If ever there was a sign of a player no longer suited to a Guardiola team, that was it.
He missed 21 games with injury last season, and that sort of battering takes its toll. You almost hope that this season Kompany will be gently phased out, a magnificent servant whose day has passed.
3. Wolves show their bite
Before this game, Wolves manager Nuno noted that while the balance of power was firmly on Manchester City's side, Pep Guardiola's all-conquering champions wouldn't just show up to Molineux and given three points with a bow on top.
"I think every player in the squad of Manchester City have a lot of qualities, a lot of talent," he said. "It is everybody that we have to worry about. But they have to be worried about us."
He was right, as it turned out. In the first half particularly, Wolves were terrific, pressing City relentlessly and rarely letting them settle. Everybody knows that if you allow them to play as you can, you're in for a long afternoon. But it takes a bit of courage and zest to be proactive about stopping them.
That's what Wolves did, while also providing plenty of attacking threat themselves. Their 3-4-3 system turned into more of a 5-4-1 when City came forwards, sheer numbers often crowding Sterling, Aguero and Bernardo Silva out. But their counterattacks had purpose, helped by the brilliant distribution from Ruben Neves and Moutinho in the heart of midfield, and both the pace and intensity of their forward line.
Of those attackers, Helder Costa deserves to be singled out for praise. On a few occasions he left Benjamin Mendy looking like he was unsure where he was, twisting, turning and getting behind the full-back with great skill.
Neutrals who had seen their promotion campaign had high hopes for Wolves in the Premier League. If they play with this sort of purpose for the rest of the season, those hopes will be fulfilled.