AFP, WOLVERHAMPTON, England
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola labeled Phil Foden as “incredible” after their team survived a scare to start their English Premier League title challenge with a 3-1 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday.
City’s delayed start to the campaign — due to their involvement in last season’s UEFA Champions League — had allowed Liverpool to build a six-point lead over them before they had even kicked a ball.
Guardiola’s side could not afford to slip up at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, England, if they wanted to keep pace with the champions, and they raced into a two-goal lead before halftime thanks to Kevin de Bruyne’s penalty and Foden’s cool finish.
City’s swaggering first half gave way to an anxious spell as Wolves dominated after the interval and they had to cling on after Raul Jimenez got one back before Gabriel Jesus sealed the points in stoppage time.
Foden’s goal was a welcome morale boost in his first match since the midfielder was sent home in disgrace, along with Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, after the pair invited local Icelandic women into the England team’s hotel.
The breach of COVID-19 protocols after England’s Nations League match in Iceland was publicly condemned by City, but the 20-year-old retains Guardiola’s trust.
“For the goal and in the second half Foden played incredibly well, he helped us keep the ball,” Guardiola said.
While City equaled Aston Villa’s record of winning 10 consecutive opening fixtures to a top-flight season, there is little doubt Liverpool remain the Premier League’s pre-eminent force for now.
Yet Guardiola was delighted to open with a victory given the shorter than usual preseason.
“We could not run much because we are tired in our legs, but in general we did a good game,” he said.
“The period that we are in, the situation that we had this last two weeks, I expected some moments where we suffer, but in general we controlled it well,” Guardiola said. “It was a good performance. We know how difficult it is in this stadium.”
“Sometimes we need more time to get to our best condition, but it was a good start to come here and win,” he said.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa kicked off their Premier League campaign with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Sheffield United as Ezri Konsa bagged the winner after Emiliano Martinez saved a penalty for the hosts.
Sheffield were a man down early on after captain John Egan was sent off for a foul on Ollie Watkins.
Villa keeper Martinez saved John Lundstram’s first-half penalty in his first appearance following his move from Arsenal last week.
Konsa sealed the points in the second half with a looping header, a well-earned reward for a committed display after he played on despite appearing to injure himself sprinting out for the second half.
IBRAHIMOVIC ON FORM
Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Monday scored twice as AC Milan got their Serie A campaign up and running with a 2-0 win over Bologna.
Ibrahimovic, who turns 39 next month, showed he has lost none of his goalscoring skills, having also netted last week against Irish side Shamrock Rovers in the UEFA Europa League.
“If I had been 20 years old I would have scored two more goals,” the Swede said of his display.
“I’m like Benjamin Button, born old, but I’ll die young. Seriously, the team has worked well: You can see we’re not at 100 percent yet, but it was important to start well.”
Ibrahimovic grabbed the opener in the 35th minute, rising higher than Danilo to get his head to a Theo Hernandez cross.
Six minutes after the break the Swede added a second from the penalty spot after a Riccardo Orsolini foul on Ismael Bennacer.
Bologna finished a man down with Mitchell Dijks send off with two minutes to go, but it made no difference to the match.
“They had Ibrahimovic, we didn’t,” Bologna coach Sinisa Mihajlovic said. “Ibra made the difference, everything Milan created came through him, but it was a balanced game.”
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