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Gabriel Jesus ensures Manchester City start with a win despite Wolves rally

On a gripping night at Molineux Manchester City were, by turns, brilliant and brittle. Undercooked and depleted by injury, City were still good enough to come away with a 3-1 win against powerful opponents in their first game of the season, prompted by another masterclass from Kevin De Bruyne.


It might have been different. How Nuno Espírito Santo will wish his Wolves team had started with the level of aggression they showed in the second half. Or indeed that Adama Traoré had been instructed to abandon a diffident turn as a deep defensive wing-back and attack City’s obvious tender spot on the left flank

At the end Pep Guardiola was a little sombre, praising the performance of his midfielders – particularly De Bruyne – but cautious too, and no doubt a little worn by a second half defensive rearguard. “Every training session I feel his commitment and right now he’s an important player for us – always will be,” Guardiola said.

“I’m very pleased with the performance and the way we played. All the team were really good, especially in the first half,” the City manager added. “The period that we are in and the situation we’ve had in these last two weeks, I expect in some moments we would suffer, but in general we controlled the game.”

There has been little opportunity for Guardiola to refresh his team over the summer, although the distraction of trying to sign the greatest club footballer of all time clearly hasn’t helped. Here City were missing not just their outstanding cutting edge in Sergio Agüero, but the key figure of Aymeric Laporte at the back. In his absence Guardiola gave a debut to Nathan Aké, newest arrival in a four-man £190m defence that also included Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and John Stones. Well, Pep has always been more of a midfielders man.

Molineux was another eerie, echoey Premier League ghost-ship at kick-off, those empty rows of gold and black extra-poignant given the rousing atmosphere the last time these two teams met here. And in a way Wolves were both the worst possible opponent for City at this stage and also the most tactically interesting, a team geared to test how and to what degree City have fixed the problems that afflicted them last season.

Most notable of these was a weakness against opponents who break quickly; and also those who can keep the ball, take the game deep, and make City fret a little, losing themselves in their own passing rhythms.

It was notable here that City allowed Wolves to do neither in the first half. Fernandinho and Rodri provided a smothering central midfield pivot. Whatever Aké does from here he has already given City back their best central midfielder. Further forward the ball was funnelled with real urgency from flank to flank, with De Bruyne the great throbbing mobile brain at the heart of every passing sequence.

City were aided by the spectacle of Traoré playing so deep in what was most of the time a five-man Wolves defence. Is this the best use of his supreme attacking drive? No doubt the nation’s left-backs would enthusiastically agree. But it was on that right side City made early inroads.

Raheem Sterling wriggled through on goal inside two minutes but took a heavy touch. And for a while City worried away at the Wolves defensive lines, keeping the ball, switching from flank to flank in search of an overload.

The breakthrough came on the other flank with 18 minutes gone. De Bruyne showed pretty much the complete midfield hand in that first half. Here he appeared briefly as a winger, sprinting down the right channel then drawing a foul as Romain Saïss slid in, taking both his feet.

It was a hare-brained moment from the left-sided centre back. De Bruyne stepped up and smashed the penalty into the corner. City kept on going, moving Wolves around the pitch with a calm severity, waiting for the stitches to come apart. The second goal arrived on 32 minutes from a beautiful team move.

This time it came down the left. Gabriel Jesus dropped deep and played a neat lay-off to De Bruyne. He slid the ball into the path of Sterling’s run. Sterling’s pull-back found Phil Foden in front of goal, with time to place his shot into an unguarded net.

By half-time City had taken 68% possession and reduced the home team to an extra in their own game of pass and move. At which point Wolves came back out transformed, playing suddenly without fear. Pushed further up the pitch, Traoré finally got away, brushing Mendy aside like a man sashaying through a set of saloon bar doors, and finding Daniel Podence in the centre. He turned and smacked a shot just past the post. Another sortie down the right saw Rúben Neves’s shot kicked off the line by Kyle Walker.

Podence hared through again on goal but scooped a showy finish on to the roof of the net. With 77 minutes gone Fábio Silva came on for his league debut. And within 60 seconds Raúl Jiménez had made it 2-1, heading past Ederson’s left hand after Podence had nutmegged De Bruyne and floated a cross to the near post, a wonderful piece of assist-work.

Wolves pressed hard. City held on. At the death Jesus made it 3-1 with a deflected finish to seal a fine win, albeit one shot through with its own notes of caution.

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