Earlier this week, Pep Guardiola downplayed Rodri’s three-game absence from his Manchester City team by announcing that the Blues will still play with 11 men despite being without the centre of their midfield. The City boss would have been more worried about the quality than the quantity.
In the treble-winning season, no City player played more minutes than Rodri, and the team hasn’t been without him for three or more straight games since October and November of this year. They still have one game left in his three-match suspension, and the signs don’t look good for them after almost four years.
Without Rodri, the team has played two games and lost both, and the chaotic, uncontrollable nature of their loss to Wolves at Molineux would have Guardiola sobbing in the front row of the Billy Wright Stand as he served a touchline ban after receiving three bookings this season.
Guardiola made light of Rodri’s dismissal against Nottingham Forest by saying he could afford to get in trouble with the officials, but his players couldn’t. At that time, he was enraged at the holding midfielder. He will be outraged at him right about now.
Kyle Walker spent weeks on the naughty step after being unjustly dismissed in a dead-rubber group match against RB Leipzig last season. Guardiola probably wants to handle Rodri the same way, but this nightmare show has just helped to highlight how crucial he is.
On a day when City had a chance to become the first team in history to win their first seven Premier League games, they instead let Arsenal close the gap on them ahead of the weekend’s match at the Emirates. On the basis of this evidence, Arsenal will think they have a good chance against a Rodri-less City.
The 27-year-old was to be replaced by Mateo Kovacic, but it was Matheus Nunes who drew most of the early focus and Kalvin Phillips who missed their final opportunity in the final minute of regulation.
This week, Nunes apologised to the Wolves supporters for the way he pushed through his transfer to the Etihad. In any other sector, changing to a better job wouldn’t be met with a barrage of jeers and X-rated epithets, but this is football, and Nunes was a villain in Wolverhampton on Saturday.
The commotion inside Molineux gave away City’s early level of possession. The boos would reappear when the ball passed through Nunes. If he had scored in front of the Sir Jack Hayward Stand, he might have taken his rage to a new level. However, after being set up by Ruben Dias’ wonderful pass, he attempted to provide Erling Haaland the victory but Craig Dawson managed to deter the Norwegian.
In the opening 14 minutes, Wolves had hardly left their own half, but they always appeared dangerous on the break, with Pedro Neto, Matheus Cunha, and Hwang Hee-chan attempting to position themselves to advance when they won the ball.
Maintaining possession became even more crucial for City as a result, but Mateo Kovacic’s passing judgement was off as he hammered a pass towards Phil Foden in the middle of the pitch from a few yards away. The misplaced pass had too much speed, so Wolves took control. Neto sprinted down the right, outrunning Nathan Ake’s frantic dive, and attempted to square the ball for Cunha, but the cross hit Dias and looped over Ederson.
That Neto was the architect was not surprising. This season, he has been the focal point for Wolves, and Ake was having a terrible time against him. Wolves constantly made a move down that wing.
On that side of the game, City had a similar experience, with Jeremy Doku being by far their most active striker. He cut in on his right foot on a few occasions, but Julian Alvarez and Foden were unable to enter the game in the first half.
City needed a change, so it was unexpected to see Oscar Bobb come out at halftime while Nunes remained inside. The £53 million midfielder was by no means City’s worst player in the first half, but he never shied away from a challenge. Bringing Bobb on before Jack Grealish also seemed like a risky move, but the 20-year-old proved it right.
Early in the second half, he poked a pass in the direction of Haaland, but the striker failed to take advantage of the opening. Then, after winning a free kick from Joao Gomes, Bobb blasted a magnificent right-footed shot from 22 yards just beyond Jose Sa’s reach and into the top corner.
The free-kick decision infuriated Wolves supporters, who vented their rage by chanting, “And now you’re gonna believe us, the Premier League’s corrupt.” Fans arriving to Molineux would have seen loud conspiracy theorists protesting in Wolverhampton’s city centre earlier in the day, and the home supporters had obviously caught the vibe.
The corruption detector, though, appeared to be down when Hwang gave them the lead after Walker had already been booked and should have been sent off on the stroke of halftime when he caught him in the shin.
In terms of the City, it was a horrible capitulation. Just as Kalvin Phillips was trying to bring order to an erratic game, Wolves went back to the front against a disorganised team. Nelson Semedo was able to intercept Max Kilman’s long pass with ease from the right wing. Hwang’s initial shot was blocked, Manuel Akanji bent awkwardly to head clear, and Cunha deflected the rebound back into his path for a straightforward finish.
It encapsulated the state of the game. City struggled to maintain control, and Wolves were always going to benefit more than the visitors from the gritty, tumultuous match.
Walker, Dias, and Akanji made up their back three as they played out the game, but they were still unable to break through. Haaland can’t have had many quieter afternoons than this, as evidenced by his errant header in stoppage time from a Phillips cross. A depressing afternoon came to an end with a chorus of ‘Nunes, Nunes, what’s the score?’ that was deafeningly loud upon the last whistle.