Wolverhampton vs Manchester City: An exhibition of courage and spunk

Most would’ve expected City to bulldoze past Wolverhampton, but Nuno Santo’s men showed a strength of character that many bigger teams could learn from.
Wolverhampton
Art by Debanjan Chowdhury

We’ll drive our ships to new lands

To fight the horde, and sing and cry

Robert Plant’s hypnotising vocals greeted Manchester City in a partly cloudy Wolverhampton, at the Molineux Stadium in an early kick-off on Saturday. The same words, written by the lifelong Wolves fan and Led Zeppelin vocalist, were interpreted in an amicable manner, almost in a metaphorical sense, by the entirety of England at the final whistle when Rui Patricio hoofed the ball ahead in a distinguishable orange garb for the last time in the afternoon. Wolverhampton Wanderers had announced themselves today after winning a point against the best with their fighting, singing and crying in the form of resilience, organisation and some Portuguese erudition — Nuno Espírito Santo.

With the champions elect in sky-blue approaching the tenth anniversary of their Abu Dhabi ownership, it was quite apt for them to be visiting Wolves yesterday, considering how they have ambitious owners in the Fosun group as well; which explained the inclusion of a staggering six new players in the starting lineup.

Nuno Espírito Santo named an unchanged lineup, showing how he believes in teamwork and unity and how unfazed he is by his bald neighbour’s lethal attacking team, boasting players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and the costliest set of wing-backs in world football. For the 44-year-old bearded tactician had a strong Portuguese spine for his team, five players in total, which was more than SL Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP had in each of their starting lineups last weekend.  

The whistle blew as the sun positioned itself right over Molineux and the battle between a well-disciplined counter-attacking outfit and a systematically fluid passing setup ensued, providing a scintillating start for any neutral lover of the game.

Ruining Vincent Kompany’s 250th league appearance for City, Diogo Jota drew first blood, winning the ball off the Belgian defender and crossing it inside the box for a lurking Helder Costa. A failed attempt, but this laid a marker for the rest of the game, that the wolves do venture far away from their own den. Despite the obvious attempted siege at the Wolves goal and the statistical oppression faced by the West Midlands team throughout the game, they didn’t go gentle into the night. Time and time again, they hit City on the counter, progressing through the middle by exchanging quick passes and relying on Ruben Neves’ and Joao Moutinho’s long balls to release the wingers down the flanks, humiliating Benjamin Mendy far too many times. This amalgamation of counter-pressing, combination play and crossing was well-executed against the country’s best by a side that hasn’t even trained together for an entire month — kudos to the bald Valencianista’s dedication to build a team from scratch.

Though Wolves had a fair amount of Lady Luck’s favour in Willy Boly’s goal being scored by his hand, and a penalty not awarded to City when David Silva got swept off the ground, there’s simply no discrediting the effort behind setting up the system which earned them the 1-1 result. With the Portuguese wingers proving to be a nuisance with quick feet the entire match, Willy Boly channelising his inner Lilian Thuram blocking both the Silvas, and Rui Patricio having a blinder of a game stopping Raheem Sterling from 40 yards with a save of the season contender, Nuno Espírito Santo had a lot of positives to jot down in his invisible little notebook. Not to forget, the ex-Middlesbrough man, the La Masia Machoke’s late performance backed by an ever-vibrant support at Molineux that broke ankles left, right and centre.

On we sweep with threshing oar

Our only goal will be the western shore

Pep Guardiola looked tense in the last ten minutes while his Iberian counterpart celebrated each and every pass, clearance and dribble from his men. Starting their 2018/19 season facing Everton, Leicester and Manchester City in their first three games, Wolves have done comparatively well to earn two points, the entire team chemistry still in flux with their ten new signings. With time, the communication will develop and Nuno will reap the best out of his players, even better than he did with his inspired lot today that made the likes of Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus and Vincent Kompany look ordinary in certain spells. What can be derived from the game is that Wolves haven’t set their season goal as just avoiding relegation; their goal is to reach the western shore of European football. And that is what would make the mid-table fight all the more interesting, with Everton, West Ham United and Leicester all ready to rumble.

The 31, 322 people that gathered today to witness the exhibition of attacking football with controversial goals, penalty claims, dodgy refereeing decisions, foul throws, woodwork shows and world-class goalkeeping, surely went home with a fulfilled smile on their faces.

The executives over at Fosun International were reassured about the trajectory of their global ambition at the final whistle.

The rest of the Premier League heaved a sigh of relief, to know that there’s a possibility for a legitimate title race this year.

And finally, the Wolves faithful received a reaffirmation on the pitch and from the sidelines, that the bronze-skinned Portuguese is the man with the vision and idea to lead them only forward. Their style of play may have been the worst-kept secret in the Championship but, in the Premier League, folks should buckle up for surprises as the ex-Porto manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers might as well charge through the season to the beats of an earnest fan’s Immigrant Song.

Ah-ah-ah, ah!

Ah-ah-ah, ah!

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Debkalpa Banerjee

Loves the deft nutmegs, time travel paradoxes, existentialist films, scrambled eggs, and some unhealthy fanaticism of the boys in the Anfield red.