This felt like one of those occasions when Manchester City had read the reports and heard the analysis of Liverpool’s statement victory over Chelsea and accepted the challenge. They wanted to take control. They want to be in this Premier League title race.
The achievement of winning away at Wolves should not be under-estimated, especially with several key players absent, and while there was an intense period in the second-half when the home side spurned four chances and City wobbled alarmingly under fierce pressure, they managed to manage the game once they actually did concede. Maybe it would have been different if Molineux had been a baying full house urging Adama Traore to continue running riot.
Given City are the last Premier League side to get their campaign underway and given the elongated nature of last season for them and their ultimate Champions League disappointment, there were reasons why they could not maintain their first-half ferocity which made the actual result all the more impressive.
Make no mistake, Wolves will be a formidable proposition this season. The significance of this result should, therefore, not be under-estimated and it is a compliment to City that they achieved an intensity so sorely lacking from Manchester United – who have had similar preparations – at the weekend.
There was frustration, though. Raheem Sterling, who had been so prominent, was clearly irritated at being substituted for new signing Ferran Torres even though it was late on as City held on in a game in which they had threatened to sweep Wolves aside. Maybe it just showed his competitive nature and while John Stones largely did well alongside £41 million new signing Nathan Ake in the centre of defence and on his return to the team, did he do enough? Replays of Wolves goal – with Raul Jimenez powering in an unchallenged header – did not look great for Stones as he stood watching. He knows Pep Guardiola is in the market for another centre-half.
Guardiola had spoken about “fire and desire” and he was rewarded in the first half as City burnt off Wolves, who have ambitions of their own of challenging the top four, with a focussed determination and with Phil Foden impressing along with Kevin de Bruyne who once more was simply sublime and at the heart of everything.
As the game unfolded it certainly appeared highly unlikely that Guardiola would be punching the air in relief at the final whistle. There was a VAR check as Sterling stumbled in the Wolves penalty area within two minutes and there was a spot-kick awarded within 20 minutes.
It was foolish from defender Romain Saiss who slid in needlessly to catch De Bruyne on the edge of the area as he shaped to cross. The midfielder had already poked the ball past Saiss who had no way of pulling out and it was De Bruyne who then stepped up to powerfully beat Rui Patricio from the spot. The PFA Player of the Year had already got City up and running.
The weight of the pass to De Bruyne had helped create the opportunity and it came from Foden, starting for City and hoping to move on from being sent home from England duty in disgrace. The 20 year-old continued to catch the eye and claimed City’s second goal when he finished a sumptuous move as De Bruyne played the ball through to Sterling who had the chance to shoot but also the presence of mind to know his team-mate was better-placed. The ball was pulled back to Foden who swept it first time into the net. It was a textbook Guardiola goal with its origins in quickly winning the ball back.
Wolves had completed a league double over City last season but appeared strangely intimidated and were indebted to Rui Patricio with a fine block from De Bruyne to at least give coach Nuno Espirito Santo the chance to re-organise and provide hope at half-time.
Nuno did just that. Wolves were transformed with Traore running at Benjamin Mendy and Daniel Podence full of pace and trickery. The pair were prominent as chances were created and Guardiola will have been concerned at how his side struggled. Firstly Traore picked out Podence who swivelled and shot with the ball skimming the side-netting. Then Pedro Neto’s pull back was stepped over by Podence only for Ruben Neves to shoot weakly allowing Kyle Walker to hack clear.
Soon after, Neves released Podence who had held his run cleverly and had the pace to take him away from Stones. Through on goal he scooped his shot onto the roof of the net, before Traore again worked his way to the byline and crossed with Jimenez, unmarked, side-footing wide.
Jimenez did score when Podence ‘nutmegged’ De Bruyne – of all people - and crossed for the striker to rise unchallenged and power his header beyond Ederson. Would there be another Wolves comeback? They sensed it but City rallied with their new captain Fernadinho working even harder. In fact it was City who threatened with Patricio turning away a low drive by Gabriel Jesus before he was beaten with the final kick off the match as De Bruyne picked out the striker who showed strength and determination to create the space for a shot that deflected off Conor Coady. It beat Patricio at his near post and secured such a precious three points as they begin the tough task of playing catch-up. Even this early in the season.
Full time Wolves 1 Man City 3
City take the corner short on the left, lose the ball as they try to fanny about until the imminent whistle until De Bruyne snaps in to the interception and then rolls it down the left to Gabriel Jesus. The City centre-forward opens his body and drills a right-foot shot beneath Rui Patricio.
75 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Wolves subs have been waiting for four minutes to come on but City are probing with precise passing and movement and the ball stays in play for ages. It still hasn't gone out after City light the fuse with a pass from Foden swept up the right. Gabriel Jesus ounces but so does Saiss and stops him getting the shot away.
64 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Now City break and Gabriel Jesus attacks on the counter, forced wider than he would want by Rui Patricio. He works the ball over to Walker whose shot isn't worthy of the first-half incisiveness.
Wolves have bossed this past 15 minutes and really should have at least one goal to show for it.
61 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
A fourth golden chance for Wolves in the last 10 minutes when Traore storms down the right, cuts in past Mendy and into the box then fires a right-foot cross towards. Jimenez contemplated diverting it the other way but seemed convinced a faint touch would help it to sneak in. Instead it crept past.
59 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
City are under the cosh here, pressing too high for once and Ake drawn out of position by Jimenez's run. Moutinho slides the ball between Mendy and where Ake should be for Podence. Stones chases but the Portugal winger keeps his lead and as Ederson comes out he chips him and spoons it on to the roof of the net.
56 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Life in the old wolf yet. Neto steals down the right and drags the ball back to Podence. He steps over it when he was in fact better placed but Neves takes on the shot from the tighter angle and further out, 22 yards, scuffing it low and Walker boots it away before Ederson has to muddy his knees.
54 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Traore puts the fear on Mendy and Rodri and jinks towards the penalty area. They give him too much room, frightened that he'll bomb past them if they go too tight or that he'll go down if they dive in. He pings a pass infield to Podence who turns and flashes a handsome left-foot shot from 20 yards just past the post.
52 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Moutinho almost sells Saiss short with a pass that lacked pace and was only inches away from Gabriel before Saiss steps in. But when Wolves try to build from that let-off they are hounded out of possession, De Bruyne picks out Gabriel Jesus with a phenomenal pass up the middle and the centre-forward slams a shot too close to the keeper.
44 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
The corner comes in from the right and arrives at Rodri after some pinball and he cuts his right foot across a half-volley from an angle of about 30 degrees and almost succeeds in slicing it into the far corner. Instead it whistles past the post. Amazin technique and audacity.
42 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Rui Patricio saves the day for Wolves. Sterling heads it 10 yards up to Gabriel who leans backwards to guide the perfect headed pass to meet De Bruyne's third-man run. The headers bypass Moutinho and allow De Bruyne to accelerate into the box before firing a thunderous low shot that the Wolves keeper bats wide.
38 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Mendy picks off Coady's pass - must be the sixth interception of a ball played out by the centre-backs - and strokes it up to De Bruyne. He steams crossfield in a diagonal run then fizzes a pass in to Foden's feet by by the right angle of the 18-yard box. He cuts in on his left to shoot, trying to bend it around Rui Patricio but he doesn't get enough curl on it and it sails wide of the post.
34 min Wolves 0 Man City 2
Boly's pass out of defence was picked off as City hound him and Traore. De Bruyne strides forward and rolls a pass down the left of the box for Sterling who takes it closer to the byline and then pulls it back perfectly for Foden by the penalty spot. He takes it on the half-turn and sweeps a low left-foot shot into the bottom left corner.
14 min Wolves 0 Man City 0
Excellent defending from ... wait for it ... John Stones to stop Traore by staying tight and on his feet to squeeze his space.
Threatening ball over the top into the Wolves box from the right that Sterling controls with his chest, in fact I think it was an attempted lay-off with his chest that gave him the option of spinning the keeper or setting up Gabriel Jesus. Coady and Rui Patricio save the day.
10 min Wolves 0 Man City 0
Stones and Ake are confidently stroking the ball between themselves until AKe chips it long up the left. Boly heads it backupfield where Mendy, shrewdly, is not going to let Traore have a run at him, gets tight and holds him up until he can nick it away up to Gabriel Jesus and De Bruyne. Jesus is brought down 30 yards out, 10 yards left of centre.
3 min Wolves 0 Man City 0
Raheem Sterling beats Boly in a challenge, turns him and runs at Coady in the box. Sterling goes sprawling and Coadt immediately wags his finger. No penalty ... which the pundits say is the correct call. Just a hint that Sterling's heel might have been brushed by Coady's knee but no solid evidence.
Today’s going to be a new challenge, a new game. Competing is always staying in the game, knowing that every ball is important, that every moment of the game requires focus, and bouncing back from mistakes, organising again, and having the will to have the ball and try to hurt Man City. We have talented players and we want them to express their talent.
Your teams in black and white
Wolverhampton Wanderers Rui Patricio; Boly, Coady, Saiss; Traore, Neves, Joao Moutinho, Marcal; Podence, Jimenez, Neto.
Substitutes Ruddy, Silva, Vitinha, Ruben Vinagre, Dendoncker, Kilman, Rasmussen.
Manchester City Ederson;Walker, Stones, Ake, Mendy; Fernandinho, Rodri; Foden, De Bruyne, Sterling; Gabriel Jesus.
Substitutes Steffen, Otamendi, Delap, Doyle, Bernabe, Torres, Mahrez.
Referee Andre Marriner (Sheldon)
And welcome to coverage of Manchester City's opening game of the 2020-21 season when they take on Wolves, who began impressively last weekend with victory over Sheffield United. Wolves beat City home and away last season and are one of the few sides who are willing to go toe-to-toe with them in terms of passing and fluid movement.
Ilkay Gundogan has tested positive for Covid-19 and is unavailable, joining Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte who missed much of pre-season after also contracting the virus. Mahrez is thought to be closer than Laporte to full fitness and is a possible for tonight, as is Bernardo who was injured on duty for Portugal last week. Sergio Aguero won't be back until November so Gabriel Jesus will lead the line and Ferran Torres could make his debut on the right wing if Mahrez is not ready. Nathan Ake, Virgil van Dijk's centre-back partner with Holland, is more of a certainty to make his City debut.
Jonny is Wolves' only long-term absentee Wolves will be without long-term absentee Jonny, and Fernando Marcal, the Brazilian left-back bought from Roma for a cut-price £1.8m in the summer will continue to deputise. Once Nelson Semedo signs Adama Traore may be freed from playing on the right as a wing-back but is likely to contibue there today depsite s but Nuno otherwise has a clean bill of health as he prepares to welcome the former champions.
Summer signing Fernando Marcal is likely to fill in for him at left wing-back again, while Traore could revert to right wing-back for this match, despite scoring both goals in Wolves' victory at the Etihad and the first from 2-0 down last Christmas at Molineux that instigated the comeback to 3-2.
Other than Liverpool, I doubt City could start with a harder test. Should be a cracker. Join us at 7.15pm for the team news.