Depth has its privileges. And its rewards.
As the absence of injured superstar Kevin De Bruyne barely registered, the Manchester City juggernaut looks to roll on Saturday when they face new boys Wolverhampton at Molineux.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
De Bruyne is sidelined until December with a torn LCL suffered in training. On most sides, losing the runner-up to the PFA Player of the Year award would be a devastating blow. For Manchester City, however, it simply meant next superstar up.
Enter David Silva. The midfielder nicknamed “Merlin” missed a significant portion of Manchester City’s historic 2017-18 season to be with his wife and son Mateo, who was born several months premature.
With both in attendance last Saturday, Silva made his season debut and 250th Premier League match for City a memorable one with a beautifully-taken free kick goal and the Citizens ran riot in a 6-1 thrashing of Huddersfield Town.
“He scored an amazing goal for him, so his son will never forget the first time he saw his father play football,” manager Pep Guardiola said of Silva post-match. “It was a big moment for us because last season it was a tough moment for his family, and fortunately, he fought a lot the little boy, and he’s here, so a special day for them, for us, for David.”
Silva’s return also showed both the versatility and flexibility Guardiola can utilise on a match-to-match basis. The 4-2-3-1 formation against Arsenal morphed into a three-man back in which City had so much possession that outside defenders Aymeric Laporte and John Stones freely ranged forward in support of wide backs Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva.
Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho formed the defensive base in the midfield, allowing David Silva the run of the attacking third behind Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. It paid off handsomely as Aguero recorded his 13th Premier League hat trick – two off Alan Shearer’s all-time record – and Jesus opened his scoring account for the season.
“Last season, we did it once or twice but not much more,” Guardiola said about using the South American internationals together. “We decided to play with two strikers to have more of a presence in the box, knowing we have Mendy arriving. He is clever – he can see the pass in front of the ‘keeper or the penalty spot, or the 18-yard box. He is a clever guy, arriving there.”
Aguero and Jesus have 17 goals between them in the eight league matches they have started together.
Guardiola has another injury issue to address since No. 2 keeper Claudio Bravo suffered a ruptured Achilles during training this week. City already loaned out Angus Gunn to Southampton, leaving local product Daniel Grimshaw as the back-up since Aro Muric is not expected to be recalled from his loan to Dutch side NAC Breda.
Wolverhampton (0-1-1) have not looked out of their depth in their first two Premier League matches since 2012, but the Wolves failed to get the rub of the green in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester City.
Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez thumped the woodwork in the opening 20 minutes, and their luck went from bad to worse before the half-hour when Matt Doherty headed into his own net after a cross took a deflection off the head of teammate Conor Coady.
Leicester City’s second took a deflection off Coady’s boot as James Maddison’s shot skipped past Rui Patricio and inside the right post just before halftime. Doherty was forced off in the second half after a brutal challenge by Jamie Vardy that resulted in a straight red card for the Foxes striker, and Wolverhampton hit the woodwork a third time as they failed to find a way past Kasper Schmeichel.
“We played really well but it’s just what happens,” Doherty told the Express & Star. “The league is ruthless and we need to come to terms with that. The bad luck was unbelievable, we hit the woodwork three times and had some good chances. It’s relentless, every game is losable. It could easily have been six points from six but it’s one.”
Something that would help Wolves would be scoring first. They have yet to lead since their return to the top flight – despite playing 74 minutes up a man over their first two contests — and doing so against the reigning champions is a tall order despite manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s hopes.
“In football, when you’re the team that punishes first, then you can control situations better,” he explained to the club’s official website. “I’m proud of the boys because we are playing the way we want. The team has things to improve and we’ll do it.”
If Santo does make a change to his first XI, it could be winger Adama Traore making his first start after a credible 45-minute effort in his debut replacing Helder Costa.
Wolves nearly dealt City their first loss last season when they pushed the eventual Carabao Cup champions to penalties in the fourth round at the Etihad. Bravo emerged as the hero by stopping two spot kicks after a scoreless 120 minutes.
Since the result is considered a draw, City had a four-match winning streak against Wolves end, but they are 6-2-2 against them in the Premier League era. The losses came at Molineux in 2003 and 2010.
Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites at 1/4 odds, and Wolverhampton are 11/1 long shots to pull off a shock scoreline. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 19/4.
Correct score odds are providing intriguing possibilities, with 0-2 the front runner at 11/2 followed by 0-1 and 0-3 at 7/1. A 1-2 final trails closely behind those three at 8/1, and a 1-3 finish has a 10/1 return.
Aguero is better than even money to at least add another goal to his recent haul at 4/7, and Jesus is even money. The Argentina international has 23/10 odds to score the first goal, making him the clubhouse leader, and Jesus is 7/2. Jimenez is the top Wolverhampton option and ninth overall at 11/1.
Raheem Sterling (5/4), Leroy Sane (3/2) and Riyad Mahrez (13/10) also are strongly tipped to score goals at Molineux. For the hosts, Jimenez is a 3/1 option to score during the match, and Diogo Jota is close behind at 7/2.
The path of least resistance for Guardiola would be to stick to a lineup for back-to-back weeks, but everyone knows that is not his style, and as a result, it would not be surprising to see one or two changes to his starting XI. Sterling will likely get a runout in this game after being the odd man out for attacking subs versus Huddersfield Town.
The difference in this match being another Manchester City rout or Wolverhampton turning it into a contest is how efficient Wolves are on the counter. There can’t be lost-cause chases that stretch the lines, and the midfield pairing of Joao Moutinho and Ruben Navas must hold possession at times in addition to making smart passes.
City also will not take Wolves for granted because Guardiola is sure to remind his players this side took a largely first-string Citizens team to penalties last season at the Etihad before Bravo saved their blushes in spot kicks. The ruthlessness that disappeared in pockets last term for City will be apparent at Molineux.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Wolverhampton 1, Manchester City 4
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