It is now 21 and counting, even if these victories are no longer coming easily to Manchester City. After being pushed close by West Ham at the weekend, Wolverhampton Wanderers gave Pep Guardiola’s champions-in-waiting the greatest scare of their extraordinary run so far.
Conor Coady’s second-half equaliser against the run of play cancelled out Leander Dendoncker’s own goal and threatened to stop City dead in their tracks – two games short of the record in Europe’s top five leagues, set by Bayern Munich last year – but two late Gabriel Jesus strikes either side of a Riyad Mahrez goal maintained this relentless winning streak.
Every City win is now measured in the number of records it either breaks or equals. City matched their own 28-game unbeaten run by avoiding defeat here and can surpass that streak in Sunday’s Manchester derby. But to Guardiola, the 15-point gap at the top of the Premier League table is of much greater importance. On that front, City look unstoppable.
Wolves showed that they can be frustrated on the night, though, and perhaps this was never likely to be a formality. Nuno Espirito Santo's side not only won the corresponding fixture last season but did the double over City. No top-flight opponents have taken more than their seven points against Guardiola’s side since the start of the 2018-19 season.
But the difference this year when compared to last is that City’s old flaws, foibles and Achilles heels are no longer fatal. Whatever happens, they simply win and win and win.
Guardiola warned his players before this game that any sign of complacency will result in them losing their place. But the six changes from Saturday’s win over West Ham were not punishments, more a product of him having a confident squad with a clean bill of health, and every available player being deserving of minutes.
But if City’s team sheet spoke to an interchanging cast of stars in peerless form, Wolves’ screamed damage limitation. With Ki-Jana Hoever coming in at right-back and Nelson Semedo operating only slightly ahead of him, Nuno’s starting line-up contained at least six defenders. It prevented the inevitable for only a quarter of an hour.
Rodri’s 30-yard pass over the top of Wolves was superb but Riyad Mahrez’s first touch was better, trapping the bouncing ball and nudging towards the byline. From there, he had the angle to play City’s old faithful, a cut-back to the far post. Dendoncker was putting Raheem Sterling under pressure. Too much pressure, it turned out. His attempt to block Mahrez’s cross diverted it into his own net.
It was now up to the top flight’s fifth-worst attack on the road to break down its best home defence in order to make this a contest, and Wolves needed much more than John Ruddy’s loud encouragement from the bench. City were in cruise control during the first half and would have led by two at the break if only Aymeric Laporte’s armpit had not strayed offside before his neat finish of Bernardo Silva’s flick-on.
Bernardo himself went close with the final kick of the half too, blazing over from a tight angle after forcing a fine save out of Rui Patricio. Guardiola cut a frustrated figure after that miss, as he already had done on several occasions. His team had dominated three-quarters of possession, attempted eight shots on Wolves’ goal and not allowed one of their own, but then those are the exacting standards which he demands.
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Perhaps last season’s pair of defeats were playing on his mind and shortly after the hour mark, his fears were realised. A cheap foul by Rodri on Joao Moutinho allowed Wolves’ midfield technician to bend the resulting free-kick in front of City’s high defensive line. Coady edged ahead of Ruben Dias and stooped low enough to reach Moutinho’s cross. His header was placed perfectly, low into the far corner and out of Ederson’s reach.
The squeals of delight and embraces in the Wolves technical area said it all. This was the unlikeliest of equalisers but suddenly, a second did not seem far away. All the control and composure that City have shown over the past few months suddenly eluded them. Adama Traoré finished two consecutive counter-attacks by blazing the ball into the stands. On the second, Wolves actually out-numbered City’s panic-stricken defence.
That composure soon returned, though. Jesus showed it when Coady and the rest of the Wolves defence failed to deal with Kyle Walker’s low cross. There was a small gap between the maroon-and-green shirts standing across the goal-line. Jesus found it, slamming an emphatic finish into the corner to restore the lead and spark jubilant celebrations. You would think that City were moving just three points clear at the top, rather than 15.
But then, this side is simply relentless. That explains their appetite for goals even in the closing stages, with Mahrez adding a third in the 90th minute to put the result beyond doubt, stroking the ball past Patrico after a coordinated high press had turned possession over in Wolves penalty area. Another late surge forward saw Ilkay Gundogan force a save out of Patricio and Jesus follow-up on the rebound. A 4-1 scoreline was perhaps a touch harsh on Wolves, but it was more than an accurate reflection of City’s sheer will to win.
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