Tricky tie, but City can fend off Wolves

Pep Guardiola has confirmed that his Manchester City players, including Raheem Sterling (left) and Fabian Delph, have a clean bill of health.
Pep Guardiola has confirmed that his Manchester City players, including Raheem Sterling (left) and Fabian Delph, have a clean bill of health.PHOTO: REUTERS

Champions show they have put last month's uncharacteristic bad run behind them

LONDON • Pep Guardiola's revitalised Manchester City face a potentially tricky challenge at home to Wolves today (tomorrow morning Singapore time) as they attempt to cut the deficit to Premier League leaders Liverpool to four points.

However, City have shown enough just two weeks into the new year to suggest that their uncharacteristic collapse in form last month is firmly behind them.

The English champions' slump was triggered after Chelsea ended their unbeaten streak in the league and they subsequently lost successive league games, against relatively modest opposition in both Crystal Palace and Leicester.

But a victory over the Reds to kick off the second half of the term has completely rejuvenated the mood at the Etihad Stadium.

Since then, two Cup routs in the space of four days - albeit against lower league clubs Rotherham and Burton - have indicated the return of the clinical edge that characterised their play during last season's record-breaking campaign.

It was a mood reflected by Kevin de Bruyne, who has been injured for most of the first half of their campaign, against Rotherham when he showed visible dissatisfaction at being brought off after an hour, even though City were already leading by five goals.

While media reports have hinted at his anger, with de Bruyne reportedly refusing to return to the bench to watch the remainder of their FA Cup third-round 7-0 win, instead opting to head straight down the tunnel, Guardiola refused to address the speculation, claiming he "did not speak with him" over the Belgium forward's reaction.

Despite his petulance, de Bruyne remains in line to start just his second league game of the term when City take on Wolves.

Sergio Aguero and captain Vincent Kompany, who have not played since the Liverpool match, look set to return to the first XI, and Guardiola confirmed his team had a clean bill of health as "the rest (except for Benjamin Mendy) are fit".

The Spaniard also felt City could maintain their chase for honours on four fronts even though they are unlikely to reinforce by dipping into the January transfer market.

He said: "Sometimes, we have done it but, normally, when you want to buy one player, it is for the next five or six years and, normally, it doesn't happen in this window.

"The big clubs don't buy important players for six months. If you don't have injuries and are satisfied with the squad, you go with them."

Despite declaring his happiness with his players, he warned that Wolves would be no pushovers and they had no margin for error.

Recalling how Nuno Espirito Santo's men held City to a creditable 1-1 league draw earlier in the season at Molineux, he added: "They are strong physically, (at) counter-attack, set-pieces. They defend well, deep, they control many areas (through Joao) Moutinho.

"(Ruben) Neves, he can shoot from a long way. They are newly promoted and doing incredibly well."



Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 4am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2019, with the headline 'Tricky tie, but City can fend off Wolves'. Print Edition | Subscribe