After sweeping aside Huddersfield, thanks in no small part to Benjamin Mendy, City next face newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux. Despite playing in the Championship last season, City did face Wolves in the horribly-titled Carabao Cup. With a drastically weakened back line (featuring a pairing of Tosin Adarabioyo and Eliaquim Mangala), City struggled and eventually progressed on penalties. Suffice to say, City will be much better this time around.
It’s hard to read much into Wolves’ first two games, even beyond the tiny sample size. In each match, their opponent was shown a red card, meaning that approximately half their time on the pitch has been 11 against 10. Obviously that drastically affects how the team plays and makes it difficult to draw much in the way of conclusions.
One thing that is clear is their preferred 3-4-3 setup. Popularized in the Premier League by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves do it slightly differently with the centre-backs spread very wide in possession. This allows Portuguese midfield duo Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho to drop in between the wide and middle center-backs to receive the ball.
Therefore, a lot of build-up duty is transferred from the defenders to midfield, which is probably for the best given Wolves’ personnel in the respective areas. If City can close off those easy balls and aggressively press the passes to the wide centre-back though, there should be turnover opportunities with ample space behind to exploit.
Still, even considering the time they’ve spent up a man, Wolves are decidedly more comfortable on the ball than your typical newly promoted team. Averaging 57% possession across their first two games is impressive. The problem is they haven’t generated much in the way of shots from that, and those they have were from less than ideal positions; 60% of their shots were from outside the penalty area, and none have been in the six yard box. The majesty of Ruben Neves’ strikes from distance can’t be denied, but they’re not the type you can rely on to succeed in the Premier League.
City, meanwhile, turned in an incredible attacking performance against Huddersfield, recording 32 shots, 14 of which were on target, six goals, and around four xG depending on the model. It was enough to get three of their players into Twelve’s team of the week.
I’d expect City to once again dominate possession, and for Wolves to drop their wing-backs into more of a 5-4-1 shape when defending. As a possession-oriented team, it will be interesting to see how the home side cope with being without the ball so much.
— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) August 19, 2018
Though the personnel differed widely from the Arsenal game, the overall structure of City’s team versus Huddersfield was relatively similar. Mendy pushed into midfield on the left, only this time he kept in a wider position as Jesus was playing on the left in a narrower role than Sterling. Stones took Walker’s position as the right center-back, giving the team the same unbalanced 3-3-4 look in possession.
Mendy’s position helped stretch the defense, and resulted in several assists, but the returning David Silva was also influential. The Arsenal game was a venture into the unknown of sorts as City have very rarely played without both of their twin, midfield talismans and his lovely free-kick goal crowned a very assured performance.
Once again, this is on paper a game City should win quite easily. It will be tough for Wolves transitioning to a league where a high-press is more common given their setup. City have the tools to disrupt Wolves early in their possessions on the rare occasions they do get the ball and have just had an excellent warm-up performance in attacking a deep 5-4-1. While Molineux is always a tough place to visit, I have a feeling the fans’ howl will be worse than Wolves’ bite.