On a day when the Barclay’s Premier League came back into action after a Cup break, Wolverhampton made the trip north to face Manchester City. The match was won by City, but not without some tense moments brought on by some inspired play from Wolves.
CITY FORMATION: City started the match in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Newly-signed Edin Dzeko was inserted immediately into Roberto Mancini’s lineup as center forward. Carlos Tevez moved back into the second striker’s role filled so well by David Silva through the early part of the season. Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson played supporting wing midfielders, with Yaya Toure pushing up in attack.
WOLVES FORMATION: Wolverhampton started in a 4-4-2, with an especially narrow midfield. This was done to deal with the strong central midfield of Toure and Tevez, and to a lesser extent Nigel de Jong. This narrow feature opened up City to more opportunities on the wing. Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle were the twin strikers. In the buildup, Fletcher came back to the left side to provide a vehicle for connecting the midfield.
EARLY MATCH KEYS: After the addition of new striker Dzeko, City played the early 30 minutes very cautiously, as if they were feeling things out. For Wolves, Mick McCarthy has drawn a reputation for being a more defensive manager. In the first half, however, he unleashed every bit of offensive tack that they could muster. Nenad Milijas was influential, as well as Fletcher, in carrying the play into the area.
THE EARLY LEAD: Kolo Toure whiffed on a clear off a cross, and Milijas took advantage. His first attempt was saved by Joe Hart, but he connected with the rebound for the 1-0 lead.
THE MATCH TURNS: In the first 30 minutes, City only managed one shot, which was blocked. As the half progressed, City started exploiting the flanks, primarily with Kolarov. At the 40th minute, a City corner kick was deflected by Vincent Kompany fighting in front. The ball came free to Kolo Toure, who drilled a shot through two defenders and Wayne Hennessey to level the score.
AFTER THE HALF: City’s flank play continued to earn dividends. Tevez collected a ball just outside the area, and weaved through two defenders before sliding the ball beneath Hennessey for 2-1.
PULLING AWAY: City quickly made this match appear to be a whitewash, this time on the counterattack. As Wolves tried to push on for an equalizer, the break started. The trio of Tevez, Dzeko, and Yaya Toure made short work of the Wolves defense. A masterful through pass from Dzeko to Toure put him in on Hennessey for the easy finish. City completed their scoresheet in the 66th minute, as a Zabaleta cross was redirected by Tevez, who did well to keep it under the bar for the 4-1 score.
ANOTHER MOMENTUM CHANGE: What seemed to be a safe three-goal lead nearly evaporated over the last 25 minutes for City. A mistake by sub Jolean Lescott in the area gave Wolves a penalty. It was a difficult call, and I would venture to say that the call may have been ignored in a closer match. Doyle took a clean penalty and brought Wolves back to 4-2.
TACTICAL CHANGES: McCarthy decided to make a net positive substitution, but did so counter-intuitively. He replaced Fletcher, a striker, with Karl Henry, a central midfielder. While this gave five midfielders, this allowed McCarthy to move the wing midfielders frontward, keeping a strong central midfield at three. The City midfield did a lot of juggling, but seemed to narrow up at this change, and play a little deeper. Yaya Toure played as an advanced midfielder after Tevez came off for James Milner. Shown is a diagram of the last 15 minutes.
IT GETS INTERESTING: Wolves did not go quietly. City tried their best to stall throughout the final 15 minutes, but Wolves had another goal in them. A corner from Mujangi Bia found Ronald Zubar, and he headed the effort just over the goal line to make it 4-3. Wolves continued to press, but lacked the touch to complete the comeback.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Carlos Tevez, by far, was the best player on the pitch. His run on the second City goal was an inspiring effort. A few days ago I posted an article about Manchester City, and I will admit my mistake in underestimating Tevez’ contribution. He made all the difference this day.
TACTICAL HIGHLIGHT: Much was made by the announcers about Silva’s omission. Mancini has played several formations in the past few weeks, including 4-3-3. The fact he stuck with 4-4-1-1 lent itself to questions about how it would work without Silva, who had been brilliant in the second striker role. It took a while for Tevez to truly feel out that sunken role, but once he did, it certainly proved too much for Wolves to handle. It really showcased the completeness of Tevez as a player, both to link up the offense as well as the backmark.
TAKE-HOMES: Dzeko wasn’t extremely effective today, but he definitely made an impact on this match. I think once Mancini gets a good handle on how best to utilize his skill-set, he could be very dangerous. Wolves seemed to take a page from the Blackpool book, playing more positive football against a better side. It nearly paid off for Wolves, who had control of a decent portion of the match. But City’s quality and depth were simply too much for Wolves today.