An abnormally short preseason and a lengthy list of injury and coronavirus-related absentees didn’t stop Manchester City getting off to a fast start in the English Premier League on Monday.
City scored in the first half through Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden before weathering a fightback from Wolverhampton in a 3-1 win at Molineux.
With Liverpool — the defending champion and City's biggest rival for the title — already on two wins from two matches, Pep Guardiola's team was under pressure to avoid an early slip-up after starting the season late owing to its involvement in the latter stages of the Champions League in August.
“We know if the pace is the same as the last three years, it will be a hard job and we want to fight against them,” De Bruyne said of City's impending title fight with Liverpool. "We make each other better and for me that is what sport is all about.”
It was just 37 days since City's humbling loss to Lyon in the Champions League quarterfinals, and in that time, three players — Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez and most recently Ilkay Gundogan — contracted the virus.
Only Mahrez was available against Wolves, and he never made it off the substitutes’ bench. Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Eric Garcia were among those out injured.
City's available players quickly slipped into their groove, though, and won the game through their impressive first-half display against an opponent who did the home-and-away double over them last season.
De Bruyne, English soccer's player of the year last season, had a leading role for City and converted a penalty in the 20th minute after he was brought down by Romain Saiss just inside the area. He then helped to create the second goal by slipping in Raheem Sterling, who cut the ball back for Foden to score in the 33rd.
Raul Jimenez pulled a goal back for Wolves with a header in the 78th, but Gabriel Jesus made the game safe with a deflected third for City in the fifth minute of injury time after De Bruyne won the ball back high up the field.
“The period that we are in and the situation that we had in these last two weeks, I expect that in some moments we suffer," Guardiola said, “but in general we controlled the game.”
With a penalty save, a clean sheet and a win, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez couldn't have wished for a better debut for Aston Villa.
Villa opened its campaign beating 10-man Sheffield United 1-0, and had Martinez — a signing from Arsenal last week — to thank after he tipped aside a 36th-minute penalty by John Lundstram.
The visitors were a man light by then after John Egan's red card in the 12th for pulling back Ollie Watkins as last man as they fought for a long ball forward, and they couldn't hold out.
Ezri Konsa got the winner in the 63rd, nodding into the bottom corner at the far post after fellow centre back Tyrone Mings flicked on a corner.
Sheffield United has lost its first two games, having already been beaten by Wolves.
Forty-four goals were scored in the second round of games in the league, a single-round record since the division was reduced to 20 teams in 1995.
It beat the 43 on the weekend of Feb. 5-6 in 2011.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80