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Molineux witnessed fire and fury as Manchester City’s flawless record went up in smoke. In a tumultuous encounter, Matheus Nunes faced relentless jeering, Erling Haaland struggled to make an impact, and the reigning champions appeared surprisingly lackluster.
Nunes inadvertently played into Wolves’ hands, with the persistent and fierce jeering against the former Wolves midfielder Gary O’Neil adding to City’s discomfort. The Brazilian midfielder was substituted at halftime, with Wolves already leading.
It was a turbulent afternoon, marked by nine bookings and a post-match melee. This is precisely how you defeat a Pep Guardiola side, which looked noticeably weaker without Rodri. His absence in the upcoming match against Arsenal should be a significant concern for City.
With less control and increased vulnerability to counterattacks, the absence of their holding midfielder became increasingly evident. Hwang Lee-chan’s decisive goal, six minutes into the second half, on a classic counterattack, provides a significant boost to Wolves and their manager, Gary O’Neil, who had faced substantial criticism following a recent defeat to Ipswich Town.
This victory has the potential to turn a manager’s fortunes around, and Wolves celebrated it as a catalyst that could propel them forward, much like their recent result against Liverpool might have.
“If you beat the best team in the world, or possibly the best team ever, it’s obviously a big result,” said O’Neil. “It’s an unexpected three points against a team that will probably win the league again.”
The tactical focus was on Matheus Cunha, the center forward, who was tasked with marking Mateo Kovacic. Wolves allowed Ruben Dias to have the ball as a spare man, and City struggled to penetrate their defense consistently.
This result seemed inevitable long before the final whistle. Haaland’s ineffectiveness, contained by Craig Dawson and Max Kilman with just 15 touches, epitomized City’s early frustration.
Hwang, already on a booking, had fouled Kyle Walker, and City implored the referee to show another card. Wolves played on the edge, tackling aggressively, but City felt it had gone too far.
However, as Guardiola descended three flights of stairs from the director’s box to the dressing room, he knew that their failure to break through Wolves’ stubborn defense was the primary reason they were trailing.
“It’s not easy for Erling when there are lots of players around him,” Guardiola admitted.
The solution was to bring on teenager Oscar Bobb, replacing Nunes. As Bobb entered the field, chants of “What a waste of money” echoed from the Sir Jack Hayward end, demonstrating the home fans’ satisfaction with their job.
The central areas of the pitch became overcrowded, with City struggling to create enough threats from wide positions. Dawson’s crucial intervention, deflecting a Nunes cross away from Haaland, was as close as they came to scoring.
Referee Craig Pawson lost control of the match, and it’s ironic that Guardiola, known for his touchline antics, might have received a booking himself if not for a one-match touchline ban for accumulating three yellow cards. Guardiola, seated just two seats away from Mike Summerbee in the main stand, was left to voice his frustrations to sporting director Txiki Begiristain.
Wolves daringly kept three players in positions to exploit any opportunities that arose. Pedro Neto proved pivotal, causing numerous problems for City on the left flank. The opening goal, scored in the 13th minute, was entirely down to his brilliance.
Kovacic and Phil Foden inadvertently congested each other’s space, allowing Neto to break away from deep within his own half. Foden couldn’t keep pace with him, and Nathan Ake was outpaced as Neto charged towards the byline. Neto spotted Matheus Cunha making a run, but Ruben Dias intervened, inadvertently guiding the ball beyond Ederson into the net.
Molineux resembled a hostile battleground, and the tension escalated further 13 minutes into the second half, not due to the quality of Julian Alvarez’s free-kick, which found the top corner thanks to a desperate Jose Sa, but rather due to the contentious decision that led to the free-kick.
Oscar Bobb appeared to have a free role and advanced into the box when Joao Gomes appeared to nudge him. Bobb was brought down, and Pawson awarded the free-kick, causing uproar among the home fans.
Throughout the match, Wolves seemed to have City figured out. Hwang secured the victory, celebrating ecstatically as he capitalized on a goalmouth scramble. Wolves played a ball over Ake, an area they had regularly exploited, causing chaos in City’s box. Dias blocked Hwang’s initial attempt, but the South Korean had a second chance, narrowly evading Walker’s attempt to clear it off the line.
In the end, it was a day of triumph for Wolves and manager Gary O’Neil, while Manchester City’s perfect record came crashing down in a fiery encounter at Molineux.