Manchester City host Wolves on Sunday needing to keep the pressure on leaders Liverpool, but Steve Rawlings isn't expecting the usual Etihad goal glut...
"As free scoring as the hosts are, Wolves are tight at the back and it’s difficult to envisage the usual glut of City goals. Wolves have just kept back-to-back clean-sheets and they’ve conceded just three in their last five in all competitions."
Manchester City v Wolves
Sunday 6 October 14:00
Canaries setback soon forgotten
With injuries to central defenders, John Stones, and more crucially, Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City were adjudged to be in big trouble by some sections of the media after they crashed to a 3-2 defeat away at Norwich three weeks ago. Defensive lapses were to blame for all three goals and questions were again asked as to whether the Citizens were right not to buy in the close season.
The departure of club legend, Vincent Kompany, left a massive hole and the long-term injury to Laporte is a huge blow but the Champions have responded to that surprise defeat in spectacular fashion. In the five games since, they've scored 19 and conceded just one.
There have been two Champions League wins, a straightforward 3-0 victory away at Preston in the League Cup, an out-and-out thrashing of a dire Watford side at the Etihad (8-0) and a hard-fought 3-1 win at Everton last Saturday night. Crisis? What crisis? Makeshift centre-back, Fernandinho, was at fault for the solitary goal conceded but by and large he's been exceptional and the more games Nicolas Otamendi plays alongside the Brazilian, the better he plays too.
Kevin de Bruyne is a non starter for Sunday, after picking up a groin injury last week, but it's still hard to look past the Champions in the outright market given that they won 18 of 19 at the Etihad last season and that they've only been denied a clean sweep of victories so far this season by the bizarre VAR decision on Laporte's last-gasp winner against Spurs.
Wolves on the up after slow start
Having comfortably won the Championship by nine points, Wolves performed brilliantly last season to finish seventh in the Premier League - emulating another recently promoted team, Burnley.
The Clarets finished 14th in their first season back in the top-flight but seventh the following season but as Wolves are finding out, that high finish comes at a price.
Burnley eventually finished 11th last season but they were languishing in the bottom three at the halfway stage and qualification for the Europa League, courtesy of their seventh-place finish, was seen as their biggest distraction and the cause for their drop in form.
Like Burnley last season, Wolves' campaign started very early on. They won the first leg of their first Europa League qualifying round on July 25 and that ridiculously early start appeared to have had an impact.
Having safely negotiated three qualifying ties, Wolves qualified for the group stage of the Europa League but they lost their first group match at home to Braga and after last season's heroics (they also reached the F.A Cup semi-finals) Wolves have been slow to get going this season, although they do appear to be turning the corner and they're unbeaten in their last four.
Wolves are still only 13th, with just seven points from seven games in the Premier League, but following their defeat to Braga, they've drawn away at Crystal Palace, beaten Reading on penalties in the League Cup and after a 2-0 win at home to Watford last weekend, they then beat Besiktas 1-0 in Turkey in the Europa League on Thursday night, thanks to a last-gasp Willy Bony winner.
Wolves were the fourth English side to play away at Besiktas since the Uefa Cup was rebranded and the previous three - Stoke, Spurs and Liverpool - were all beaten. Back-to-back wins is a great foundation to build from and Thursday's win looks particularly encouraging but getting something from the game on Sunday is a big ask if recent history is anything to go by.
Wolves drew 1-1 with City at Molineux last season and deservedly so but they were very poor at the Etihad, where they tamely lost 3-0. Bony was sent off after 19 minutes, with City already in front 1-0, and that effectively ended the contest but they offered no sort of threat before or after the sending off.
Wolves have lost their last four Premier League games at the Etihad and they've won just one of their last 10 Premier League matches on the road. They beat Watford 2-1 at Vicarage Road in April.
City to keep applying the pressure but Wolves can keep the tally down
As free scoring as the hosts are, Wolves are tight at the back and it's difficult to envisage the usual glut of City goals. Wolves have just kept back-to-back clean-sheets and they've conceded just three in their last five in all competitions.
Last season's 3-0 loss at the Etihad was Wolves' heaviest defeat of the season. They're not particularly free scoring but they tend to keep things tight as a rule and that trend has continued into this season. They did lose 2-5 at home to Chelsea last month but as already alluded to, they appear to be on the up now and that can probably be seen as a bit of a one-off.
There's often value playing the draw at half time in the Half Time/Full Time market when a long odds-on shot looks likely to be stifled but Manchester City tend to start very fast and early goals have been the norm this season. They've taken the lead inside the first 25 minutes in six of their first seven in the Premier League and they broke the record for the fastest five goals against Watford so it's hard to see Wolves keeping them at bay before the break. I can see them keeping the tally down though and Under 3.5 Goals at around [1.9] looks very fair.
City are still odds-on to win their third Premier League title in-a-row but with title rivals, Liverpool, already five points clear after just seven games, every match feels like a must win encounter already. Liverpool are at home to Leicester this weekend (previewed here by Dave Tindall) and that's a potentially tough assignment for the Reds but whatever the result at Anfield, City must keep applying the pressure.
I fancy they'll get the three points, but it isn't going to be easy against an improving and defensively strong Wolves side. City to win and Under 3.5 Goals pays 2.13 using the Same Game Multi feature on the Sportsbook and that looks decent.
Staked: 11 pts
Returned: 7.3 pts
P/L: - 3.7 pts