The master string-puller will not be available for Manchester City, but the two-time champions will not lack for virtuosos offensively Sunday when they host a Wolverhampton side looking to turn the corner and post a third straight win on the bounce in all competitions.
City boss Pep Guardiola confirmed midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will not play in this match, sitting out a second straight contest after suffering a groin injury late in their 3-1 victory over Everton.
Guardiola said it was not a major injury for the Belgium international, who missed City’s 2-0 Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb mid-week, but with the international break coming up, he felt no need to play him and risk aggravating the injury.
“No, tomorrow Kevin is not in,” Guardiola said at his Friday press conference. “After international break he will be ready. It’s not a big problem “Hopefully after international break John Stones will be back, too.”
While City do not lack for star quality throughout the pitch, De Bruyne was off to a historic start in terms of playmaking. He recorded eight assists in the first seven matches – four more than any other player in the Premier League and nearly halfway to Thierry Henry’s single-season record of 20 set with Arsenal in 2002-03.
The Cityzens (5-1-1) have won five on the trot since their stunning loss to promoted Norwich City and have conceded just one goal in that stretch. Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero continue to engage in a personal goal-scoring duel for team honours, with Sterling currently ahead 9-8, though all of Aguero’s goals have come in league play and give him the Premier League lead at the moment.
Sterling has scored in his last three matches in all competitions, providing the difference off the bench in Tuesday’s victory with the game’s first goal in the 66th minute before setting up Phil Foden’s sealing strike in stoppage time.
Wolverhampton (1-4-2) appear to have finally put their slow start behind them, the possible by-product of playing Europa League qualifiers before the season. The worm may have turned for Wolves with their Carabao Cup escape against Reading on penalties, and Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have looked more like the outfit who finished seventh last term.
They followed up their first league win – a 2-0 defeat of Watford to avenge last season’s FA Cup semifinal loss – with their first Europa League victory Thursday, edging Turkish side Besiktas 1-0 on the road. Willy Boly’s 93rd-minute goal provided the margin as he was able to control a chip from Ruben Neves in the penalty area, with Wolves growing in confidence following the introduction of Adama Traore in the second half.
“We obviously didn’t create much during the game, but to nick it at the end was special. I wouldn’t say we deserved it, but we’ll take it,” right back and Ireland international Matt Doherty told the club’s official website. “You can’t be at your best every week. They’re a good side but we managed to see out the dangerous spells and didn’t concede – which is always important. We managed to see it out until the end and obviously got the goal.”
Wolverhampton’s challenge is to maintain that defensive spirit in league play. The victory over Watford was their first clean sheet since opening the season with a scoreless draw at Leicester City. Wolves have shipped 11 goals in their seven league matches compared to conceding five in eight matches in European play.
Getting striker Raul Jimenez back in form is also a must for Wolves to have any chance of ending City’s 12-match unbeaten run at home in league play (11-1-0) and joining Crystal Palace and Manchester United as the only sides to leave the Etihad with three points since the start of the 2017-18 season. The Mexico international has gone five matches without scoring after a four-game run in which he netted once in each contest.
City took four of the six points between the sides last term and ran out 3-0 winners in the corresponding fixture. Gabriel Jesus had a first-half brace around Boly being sent off in the 19th minute after fouling Bernardo Silva. Boly was also the centre of attention in the sides’ 1-1 draw at Molineux, with his goal in the 57th minute hotly contested by Guardiola and one that would likely have been chalked off had VAR been in place.