Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers have one obvious thing in common: both have recently beaten Liverpool 2-1. Granted, the Wolves defeated a diluted version of the Reds in their FA Cup encounter last Monday, but both Wolverhampton and City can certainly take away a lot of positives from succeeding against the current Premier League leaders.
For Manchester City, every match is a do-or-die situation right now. After a horrendous December in which they lost three matches within 18 days, the much-needed victory over Liverpool brought back some life to their hopes of defending the Premier League title. Still, City are trailing by four points and another loss would probably crush their hopes once and for all.
Wolves are not only one of the best teams behind the Premier League’s big six, but one of the trickiest opponents for City. When they met in August, Wolves drew with the powerhouse from Manchester. And Nuno Espirito Santo’s side could repeat exactly that on Monday.
What they do better than almost any other team in England is to negate the threat City pose in the half-spaces. Usually, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, or Bernardo Silva, move smartly up and down the field and drift towards the touchlines when the timing is right. Joao Moutinho can work quite well against David Silva or any other attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 and make them a non-factor.
In City’s case, Silva is extremely important since he creates a lot of goal-scoring opportunities through the left side, where Leroy Sané needs space to employ his skills in one-on-ones. To let Sané break through the opposing back line, Silva has to get his feet on the ball and draw attention towards himself. But if the Spaniard disappears because of Wolverhampton’s smart coverage, City are robbed of one of their main weapons.
Pressing against susceptible centre-backs
Another component in this match-up, and potential stumbling block for City, is the intense pressing Wolves are able to apply. They can either do it with a 2-2-block in the middle of a 3-4-2-1-shape, as in their 3-1 win over Tottenham recently, or with the 1-2-block inside a 3-1-4-2 shape, as in their win over Liverpool.
In any case, the Wolves do not only intend to shut down passing lanes in the middle but to also move the block down the field and pressure the opposing build-up players. City’s centre-backs, as technically sound as they are, have looked susceptible to intense pressing and well-thought-out defensive structures in recent weeks and months.
Wolves’ own build-up may not be as sophisticated, with them playing 69 long balls per game which is the fifth highest amount of all Premier League teams, but they can force opponents into mistakes and create fast transition attacks.
That style is what works best against this current version of Manchester City. Even in their win against Liverpool, Pep Guardiola’s players needed some luck when Sadio Mané hit the post and missed the go-ahead-goal midway through the first half. Otherwise, we could very well have seen another loss for the defending champions.