Manchester City held off a second-half Wolves fightback to begin their quest to regain the Premier League title with a win at Molineux.
City did the damage in a superb first half as Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden, playing for the first time since being sent home from England duty in disgrace, both found the net.
At that stage it seemed a case of how many the visitors would get, with Foden and Raheem Sterling both going close and Wolves keeper Rui Patricio making two decent saves.
However, City ran out of steam after the break.
Daniel Podence twice went close for the hosts and Kyle Walker hacked a scuffed Ruben Neves shot off the line, before Raul Jimenez, scorer of 27 goals last season, netted for the second time in this one 12 minutes from time.
However, Wolves were unable to repeat last term’s exploits, when they came back from 2-0 down to win this fixture, and Gabriel Jesus’ injury-time effort sealed victory for Pep Guardiola’s side.
De Bruyne and Foden shine
De Bruyne was superb in the number 10 role as City made light of the absence of seven senior players.
In opening the scoring from the penalty spot, after he had been fouled by Romain Saiss, the Belgian extended his record of being involved in more goals than any other player since the start of the 2019-20 league campaign.
While it was those attributes that led to him winning the PFA prize despite playing for a team that finished the season 18 points behind champions Liverpool, it was De Bruyne’s tenacious streak that came to the fore in the second period on Monday, when City had to be on their toes defensively and new £40m centre-back Nathan Ake showed his class.
But if De Bruyne was the standout City player, it was also a good night for Foden.
The 20-year-old England midfielder has been shielded to an extent by City since that breach of coronavirus quaratine guidelines in Iceland, for which he has apologised. Whatever lessons Foden needs to learn off the field, he is evidently a very able student when it comes to matters on it.
His goal was a thing of beauty, as he firmly finished off a move he started from Sterling’s cutback. Foden also nearly scored a sensational second with a floated effort that just went wide of the far post.
Wolves pay for slow start
In signing his three-year contract extension, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has set himself the task of reshaping his team.
Matt Doherty, who has gone to Tottenham, is yet to be replaced in the right wing-back rol. Nelson Semedo is earmarked for that role but a £30m deal is still to be completed.
In the meantime, Adama Traore is being asked to fill in. However, the Spaniard does not have a defender’s instinct and can fail to read opponents’ runs and using him in that position blunts him as an attacking force.
On the other side, with Jonny on the long-term injured list, Nuno brought in Marcal from Lyon for £3m. Unfortunately for the hosts, the game was barely five minutes old when the Brazilian wandered over to his manager to tell him he had to come off.
It weakened Wolves on both flanks and, in trying to cover, they were carved up down the middle.
By half-time, they were in big trouble. Coming back from 2-0 down to win the corresponding fixture 3-2 was one of the Premier League highlights of last season. With no fans in the stadium on Tuesday, the hosts had to try to generate their own momentum.
They rallied after the break and Podence crashed an effort off the frame of the goal before Neves’ tame shot was turned away by City defender Walker. Podence’s attempt to chip Ederson when clean through ended up on the roof of the net and Jimenez sent a good chance wide before the Mexican did eventually find the net, heading in after Podence had cleverly nutmegged De Bruyne.
But Wolves lost their way and City had the game under control before Jesus administered the final blow.
‘I expect us to suffer in moments’ – what they said
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo to Sky Sports: “The first half we didn’t start very well. Man City moved the ball well and created a lot of problems for us. We conceded the penalty and from then on it become much harder. In the second half we improved. We created a lot of moments and chances we could score from. We knew one moment could change everything.
“We changed and tried to adapt. We blocked City’s possession through the middle. We were able to press and recover the ball. We had a lot of things to change and work out. Too bad we didn’t finish with a different end to the game.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola to Sky Sports: “It was a good performance. We know how difficult it is. Sometimes the opening is good and sometimes we need more time to get our best conditions but the start was good.
“The period that we are in and the situation that we had in these last two weeks, I expect that in some moments we suffer, but in general we control the game.”