Manchester City 0-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Goals: Adama Traore (£5.0m) x2
- Assists: Raul Jimenez (£7.1m) x2
- Bonus: Traore x3, Jimenez x2, Willy Boly (£5.0m) x1
It was a grim day for owners of Manchester City assets as Pep Guardiola’s troops blanked across the board at the Etihad.
There is never an opportune time for City’s players to misfire but Sunday seemed particularly inconvenient, with Sergio Aguero (£12.2m) and Raheem Sterling (£12.1m) both captained by over 1.1 million Fantasy Premier League managers and Riyad Mahrez (£8.6m) the most-bought player of Gameweek 8 by some distance.
A sizeable chunk of the 440,000+ FPL bosses who drafted in the Algerian ahead of this fixture would have been making the short-term, downward move from the injured Kevin De Bruyne (£10.0m) and hoping for an immediate points haul to gain an edge on those holding onto the Belgian, but the Fantasy Gods were particularly cruel.
Mahrez not only blanked but failed to even reach the hour-mark, with his 59th-minute substitution depriving his owners of an additional two points with the game still goalless.
Completing the game didn’t do Sterling or Aguero any good, however, with neither premium asset looking likely to score.
Sterling was pushed too wide and often nullified by the disciplined Adama Traore (£5.0m), while Aguero was well-shackled by Wolves’ imperious back three and a stoppage-time effort that sailed wide was about as close as he came to avoiding his first blank of 2019/20.
A simplistic conclusion would be that De Bruyne’s presence was greatly missed, although let’s not forget that the Citizens did win the league in 2018/19 largely without their influential Belgian.
The stats do bear out that theory this season, though: City’s two league defeats have come in the only matches that De Bruyne hasn’t started.
Ilkay Gundogan (£5.2m) deputised for the Belgium international on the right-hand side of central midfield in both of those games and created only three chances across the two fixtures combined; to put that in some context, De Bruyne supplied eight key passes in the 8-0 win over Watford a fortnight ago.
It wasn’t just the German’s fault, though, with David Silva (£7.6m) similarly neat and tidy but sometimes too ponderous with the ball and lacking the dynamism that De Bruyne brings.
It’s important not to get too carried away by this 2-0 reverse.
This was City’s first defeat at home of the calendar year and the first time they had failed to score in the league at the Etihad since May 2018, when they had already sealed their first Premier League crown under Guardiola.
The Sky Blues had racked up 14 goals in their previous three home league games this season and are head and shoulders above all other Premier League teams in as many attacking metrics as you’d care to name, be it big chances, shots in the box or efforts on target.
We can perhaps forgive the Citizens’ attacking options an off-day, then, particularly with a rested De Bruyne set to return after the international break and an appealing double-header to come at Eastlands after the Gameweek 9 trip to Selhurst Park.
The City defence is a different kettle of fish, however.
This latest self-destruction at the back wasn’t an anomalous bad performance but the latest in a string of ropey displays without the injured Aymeric Laporte (£6.3m), who is missing until 2020.
Last week we made the point that City will still get clean sheets this season even without Laporte, as their ball-hogging style and aggressive pressing will be enough to keep out lesser teams regardless of personnel at centre-half.
Top-flight teams are fast learning that Nicolas Otamendi (£5.6m) and Fernandinho (£5.2m) are no Cannavaro and Nesta, however, and particularly vulnerable to swift counter-attacks.
Wolves should have been ahead long before Raul Jimenez (£7.1m) made a fool of Otamendi and teed up Traore for their opener on 79 minutes, with the Mexican himself and strike partner Patrick Cutrone (£5.7m) wasting three one-on-ones in the opening half an hour.
Cutrone skewed wide after just five minutes before Fernandinho made a crucial double block from Wolves’ two strikers in the same move, with Jimenez later losing his balance when bearing down on Ederson‘s (£6.1m) goal.
Those who own Oleksandr Zinchenko (£5.4m), omitted from the starting XI for the second time in three Gameweeks, will be wondering whether a sideways move to Otamendi is even worth the bother, although John Stones (£5.3m) does at least return after the international break to give Guardiola another option at centre-half.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of City’s defence is that they have already conceded 47.2% of the big chances that they allowed in the whole of 2018/19.
Guardiola, unsurprisingly, leapt to the defence of his two under-fire centre-backs, saying:
They were quite good. They suffered because we lost possession in front of them. No central defenders can sustain this kind of balls we lose in the first moments. They were good.
We have waffled on enough about the deficiencies of Guardiola’s side, though.
A big reason why they flattered to deceive on Sunday was the performance of Wolves, who evoked memories of last season with a superb display at both ends of the pitch.
This first away win of 2019/20 for Nuno Espirito Santo’s troops brought to mind the 1-1 draw with Arsenal 11 months ago, with the visitors imperious at the back and looking like scoring every time they countered.
We wrote two weeks ago that Wolves had shown promising signs in the last-gasp draw with Crystal Palace and the encouragement has continued over the last fortnight, culminating in this superb result in Manchester.
Even an early injury to Romain Saiss (£4.4m) and the benchings of Matt Doherty (£6.0m) and Jonny (£5.4m), all of whom have played important roles in the league and in Europe over the last two weeks, failed to disrupt their flow.
Willy Boly (£5.0m) was his usual immense self but credit should also go to Ryan Bennett (£4.9m) and Conor Coady (£5.0m) alongside him, with Guardiola’s side creating very little of note – a Silva free-kick that cracked the bar about as close as the hosts came to scoring, while the two City opportunities that Opta deemed ‘big chances’ (a Silva volley from a tight angle and a blocked Bernardo shot) were hardly gilt-edged.
Ruben Vinagre (£4.3m) and Adama, so suspect at Goodison Park a month ago, produced perhaps their best defensive performances at wing-back, leaving Mahrez and Sterling visibly frustrated figures.
Traore was later moved alongside Jimenez when Doherty was introduced and the tactical reshuffle proved a masterstroke, with the Mexico international twice setting the budget FPL midfielder free on goal to finish past Ederson.
Speaking after full-time, Santo said:
We played good, we played good. The performance was good and defensively we were very good, very organised, we knew exactly the points of pressure, and the boys worked hard today.
At the end, running, most of them were at their limits, but until the end it was fantastic. The fans enjoyed it, and it was good; it was very good.
Wolves now sit second-top of our Season Ticker from Gameweeks 9-17 and their upturn in form is coinciding nicely with the fixture swing after the international break.
The problem remains Europa League-led rotation, however, with Doherty and Jonny’s benchings further evidence of that.
Only Coady and Jimenez are ever-presents among Wolves’ outfielders, with those two players and Boly – who missed Gameweek 5 through suspension – about as secure Fantasy options as the Wolves boss can offer.
This time last year, Santo hadn’t made a single change to his starting XI in the league.
Traore is at least playing more of a part and has started the last five league games, with his versatility meaning he can play at wing-back, on the right of a front three or indeed up top in a two-man attack.
Speaking first of Traore’s finishing, Santo said
It’s something that is improving, he’s improving. Everybody remembers Adama, he is special because he’s very fast. He’s unique and we have to take advantage of that.
Putting in Matt [Doherty] to try to stabilise the defence and search for a moment of attacking talent.
Diogo Jota (£6.1m) missed out for the visitors with a toe injury, while City’s Benjamin Mendy (£5.9m) was sidelined with a hamstring problem that isn’t expected to keep him out of Gameweek 9.
Speaking of Kyle Walker‘s (£6.0m) half-time withdrawal, meanwhile, Guardiola said:
I made a change because Kyle Walker could not continue. In the first half, all the dangerous situations we created were from Joao [Cancelo].
Kyle had an infection in his stomach in the last weeks. He didn’t train and lost weight. He made an incredible effort today because we needed fast players.
At half-time he said he didn’t feel good, that’s why we made a substitution.
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker (Zinchenko 46′), Otamendi, Fernandinho, Cancelo; Gundogan, Rodri, D Silva (Jesus 75′); Mahrez (B Silva 60′), Aguero, Sterling.
Wolves XI (3-5-2): Patricio; Boly, Coady, Saiss (Bennett 13′); Traore, Dendoncker, Moutinho, Neves, Vinagre (Jonny 74′); Jimenez, Cutrone (Doherty 68′).
Lessons learned from Gameweek 8
- Brighton 3-0 Tottenham Hotspur
- Burnley 1-0 Everton
- Liverpool 2-1 Leicester City
- Norwich City 1-5 Aston Villa
- Watford 0-0 Sheffield United
- West Ham United 1-2 Crystal Palace
- Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth
- Manchester City 0-2 Wolves
- Southampton 1-4 Chelsea
- Newcastle United 1-0 Manchester United
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