Everton travelled to the Etihad Stadium to face the league leaders and manager Ronald Koeman surprised a few by dropping Ross Barkley to the bench and in so doing giving Gerard Deulofeu a rare start. City relegated Aguero to the bench following a midweek knock playing for Argentina, and having missed another penalty against Paraguay (watch this space).
Everton lined up: Stekelenburg, Oviedo, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Cleverley, Gana Gueye, Bolasie, Lukaku and Deulofeu.
City lined up: Bravo, Fernandinho, Stones, Otamendi, Clichy, Silva, Gundogan, Sane, Sterling, De Bruyne and Iheanacho.
Micheal Oliver being the referee.
As most would have expected, City started on the front foot keen to put the defeat at Tottenham behind them, forcing Everton back right from the outset. Pep Guardiola seemingly had told Sane and Sterling to stay high up the field to pressurise Oviedo and Coleman respectively and so cutting out any early thoughts of the Everton fullbacks breaking forward.
Referee Oliver turned away early half-hearted appeals for a City penalty when Sane went down rather too easily when Oviedo made contact with his foot, and Oviedo was again involved getting a telling deflection on a De Bruyne shot to send it over for a corner.
It was all City, but Everton were defending well and were not overly threatened even when Gareth Barry brought Sterling down on the edge of the box and the De Bruyne free kick was easily dealt with. A full length of the pitch move by City saw Sterling send in a low shot that Stekelenburg easily saved. Phil Jagielka was next in on the deflection act turning a Silva shot over the bar for another corner on 26 minutes.
City to be fair were well on top and dominating the possession, but Everton were defending stoutly and not panicking under the pressure. De Bruyne, for all his involvement, was not hitting the heights expected of a £50 million signing and he pulled another shot wide when he really should have hit the target.
Having survived well past the half hour, Everton tried to get forward and enjoyed a couple of minutes in the City half with Bolasie and Deulofeu testing the home rear guard with pace and a couple of crosses.
The key moment of the half came on 42 minutes as City worked their way into the box and a twisting, turning David Silva went down as Jags stuck out a leg and Michael Oliver had the easiest of decisions in pointing to the penalty spot.
De Bruyne stepped up and fired the spot kick hard, but at a nice height and not in the corner, and Maarten Stekelenburg made a fine save diving to his left and send the teams for their half-time cup of tea and slice of orange tied at 0-0.
Everton began the second half much more positively and when Bolasie fed Deulofeu on the left flank, the mercurial Spaniard tested Bravo from just outside the box to earn a first corner. At the other end, City responded with Silva finding Sane wide right and his cross to the near post saw Stekelenburg deny Iheanacho.
Introducing the Everton Mishmash!
That was to be his last involvement as shortly after he was withdrawn in favour of Sergio Aguero and Ronald Koeman instantly countered by sending James McCarthy on for Deulofeu.
Evertons’ brief flirtation with positivity was quickly stifled by City and the home side returned to dominating the play, Jags and Wiliams making key defensive plays. However, Citys’ dominance was totally indone on 64 minutes as Lukaku was found on the left flank on half way and he set off towards goal with one defender, Clichy, between him and Bravo. Clichy kept backing off and Rom duly sealed his fate with a feint, drop of the shoulder and shot that beat Bravo for a simply stunning solo effort.
Barely five minutes later and Jags committed another foul in the box, this time on Aguero and once again, Michael Oliver had no other course than to point to the spot. The Argentinian did exactly the same as De Bruyne had and Maarten Stekelenburg repeated his first half heroics with another diving save to his left.
City though would not be denied and from a 71st minute left wing cross from Silva, Nolito buried a free header from the edge of the six-yard box.
The home side were now pouring forward in search of a winner and after Coleman was booked for time-wasting taking a throw in, Stekelenburg produced a magnificent full length diving save to deny a howitzer from De Bruyne.
Kevin Mirallas replaced Bolasie with less than eight minutes to play and Everton survived a defensive mix-up before Ashley Williams was booked following a collision with De Bruyne.
City threw Vincent Kompany on in a last ditch effort to take the points while RoKo again reacted quickly replacing Cleverley with Funes Mori as the board signalling four added minutes was brandished on the side line.
Gareth Barry, having had another superb game, was brought down by Fernandinho and needed treatment taking us well past the four added minutes and finally Michael Oliver blew for time a thoroughly deserved point.
On reflection, City – in my opinion – were guilty of overloading their offensive options with a game plan that they thought would swamp Everton. They had, if it’s possible, too many options and in De Bruyne, a player who does so much good work only to let himself down with poor finishing. Remember his for Wolfsburg at Goodison when he alone outshot us and we won 4-0 ??
From an Evertonian point of view, this was a display of defensive resolve and determination to take the point we began the game with. For so, so long on the back foot, we defended magnificently in the face of overwhelming City possession but and it’s a big but, in the goal that Romelu Lukaku scored and the manner in which it came, we clearly demonstrated that Pep Guardiola still has a few things to learn about the game in the UK.
As for the man of the match, surely it has to be double penalty saver Maarten Stekelenburg?