Top spot in the Premier League table is up for grabs for Manchester City when they travel to Molineux to take on Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday lunchtime.
The Citizens ran out 2-1 winners over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League in midweek, while the hosts have not been in action since beating Southampton 1-0 on September 3.
From becoming Wolves’ new marquee striker to suffering a devastating ACL injury in his first half of football for the Premier League side, Sasa Kalajdzic went through all the emotions as he now embarks on the long road to recovery.
With Raul Jimenez also struggling to cut the mustard, Wolves have turned to Premier League winner Diego Costa to spearhead their charge, with the ex-Chelsea man bringing his fiery and controversial playing style back to England for another year.
Wolves did not need Kalajdzic, Costa or Jimenez to sink Southampton 1-0 two weekends ago, as Daniel Podence came up with the game’s only goal in first-half injury time for their first win of the season, and their trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool was postponed in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
As such, Lage’s side still possess a three-game unbeaten run ahead of the visit of the champions, but their lack of firepower to this point has only allowed them to climb as high as 14th in the table with a league-low three goals – only West Ham United have also been as shot-shy.
Having conceded just one goal at Molineux and four in total so far this season, Wolves do hold the honour of being the Premier League’s best defensive team after six matches, and every inch of that rearguard nous will have to count if City are to walk away with anything less than three points.
Out of respect for his former club, Erling Braut Haaland did not celebrate his winner against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, but the BVB faithful could have forgiven the 22-year-old for revelling in his acrobatic excellence at the Etihad.
Jude Bellingham marked his return to English turf with a deft header to open the scoring in that Group G clash, but a John Stones thunderbolt levelled the scores in the second half before Haaland channelled his inner Johan Cruyff to sink his old employers – the outside-of-the-foot cross from Joao Cancelo was not half bad either.
Friendly debates between Stones and Haaland over whose goal was the more spectacular provided some light relief for Man City fans, whose side were pushed all the way by Dortmund but successfully made it two wins from two in the 2022-23 Champions League.
Now returning to domestic action for the first time since drawing 1-1 with Aston Villa on September 3, Pep Guardiola’s side remain one point adrift of Arsenal at the top, but a draw would be enough to see the champions return to the summit before the Gunners tackle Brentford a day later.
City’s unbeaten run in all competitions now stands at eight games – with four of their most recent five ending in victory – and it has been over a year since Guardiola’s men lost a Premier League away match, winning 15 and drawing six since defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last August.
Wolves did overcome the Citizens at Molineux as recently as December 2019 – doing the double over them that year – but the champions have since won four in a row versus the hosts, and the four-goal Kevin De Bruyne masterclass helped City to a 5-1 win in this fixture back in May.
Wolves new boy Kalajdzic is not the only player set for a long spell out of action, as Chiquinho went under the knife for his knee problem earlier in the summer and is facing several months on the sidelines.
Jimenez was a notable absentee from the showdown with Southampton, but he will likely be in the squad here after reports claimed that he was in with a strong chance of returning for the postponed clash with Liverpool.
Nevertheless, Costa ought to be ready to make his debut for Lage’s side against the reigning champions, although Hwang Hee-chan is waiting in the wings in case the 33-year-old needs more time to get up to speed.
The visitors also remain rather fortunate on the injury front, and Aymeric Laporte – who suffered his knee injury at Molineux last season – should be back in action after the international break following his return to training.
Laporte will miss this game, though, while the quick turnaround time also makes it difficult to picture Kyle Walker making himself available, but Guardiola should ring the changes either way.
Ruben Dias will expect to return to the backline for City, who also have Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva ready to return to the forward line, with Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez seemingly set to make way.
Wolverhampton Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Sa; Jonny, Kilman, Collins, Ait-Nouri; Nunes, Neves, Moutinho; Neto, Jimenez, Podence
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Stones, Akanji, Dias, Cancelo; Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne; Silva, Haaland, Foden