Gabriel Jesus helped himself to a brace of markers and Raheem Sterling scored a third as City proved too clinical and too efficient in all areas for an Everton side who stuck gamely to their task, but came up way short of the quality needed to compete with the defending champions.
Match number four of our busy December schedule pitted the Royal Blues of Everton away to the sky blues of reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City. Our Portuguese manager Marco Silva versus the vastly experienced and successful Spaniard, Pep Guardiola. A good, healthy, respectful north-west derby, not an over-hyped, media driven, almost rabid hatred of a rivalry as will be witnessed elsewhere on Sunday.
For the hosts, City, it’s been a stellar first half of the season… quarter finalists in the Carabao Cup, topped their group in the Champions League and with only one loss in the defence of their title, last weekend away at Chelsea, the omens for another successful season look nailed on for the men from the Etihad.
Pep Guardiola however, isn’t given to letting things get ahead of themselves as he noted in his pre-match comments. “Last season, when we dropped points we were able to make another big run, winning games. We’ve dropped points (against Everton) here but tomorrow’s another game. Everton have completely changed their team in terms of players – Bernard, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Digne, Yerry Mina. I’m really impressed how well they do.”
With all-time leading scorer Sergio Aguero fit again after missing four games with a groin injury, City’s only real problem was the absence of playmaker David Silva. Guardiola made four changes to his starting eleven: Ederson, Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Delph, B Silva, Fernandinho (c), Gundogan, Mahrez, Jesus and Sane.
With a late loss to ‘them’ and two disappointing home draws against Newcastle and Watford, Everton and Marco Silva could be forgiven for maybe wanting an easier game than this trip to the Etihad. That said though, there’s no better way to boost your spirits than with a good showing and result against the best, and despite claims from another place, City are the team to beat at present.
Despite the results, Marco Silva remains confident and rightly so that things are slowly coming together for the new-look Everton and with Marcel Brands having dropped subtle hints about how future squad strengthening will be handled, who’s to say what or who the January window might bring.
In his press conference he commented, “We know we are playing against possibly the best Premier League team. They have a lot of individual quality. It will be tough for us, but it is a good game for us to enjoy, to challenge a team like City. Our players have shown we like these type of games.”
With Idrissa Gana Gueye a doubt after being substituted against Watford last Monday, Marco Silva wanted to give his Senagalese midfielder every chance to recover while pondering a switch to three centre-backs to thwart the offensive threat posed by City. And that’s how it transpired with Gana ruled out and Marco handing in his team sheet reading: Pickford, Digne, Zouma, Mina, Keane, Coleman (c), Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
In charge at a bitterly cold, wet and windy Etihad Stadium was referee Craig Pawson.
City settled right from the start but it was Everton who drew the first save from Ederson as from a long ball relayed onto him by Sigurdsson, DCL turned his man to fire in a shot that the Brazilian keeper turned away while the linesman flagged the attempt offside.
City’s noted ability to pressure and regain possession was quickly illustrated as loose balls by Everton were quickly picked off, and against a side like City, Everton needed to be better in their passing and first touch control of the ball.
Jesus with a sweet turn got away from Keane, but Zouma was quick and decisive in getting to the ball to clear, but another warning sign for Everton to heed and address as the home side dominated the opening ten minutes.
A mistake by Walker saw Digne dispossess him, get to the byeline to send a great cross to the back post where Richarlison couldn’t keep his side-footed volley down to test Ederson. Bernard and Digne then combined to force another crossing opportunity, but this time it was too strong for Coleman to get on the end of.
Digne was booked on 18 minutes as Mahrez got away and drew the lunging challenge just outside the right hand side of the penalty area. From the free kick, Bernard charged down the first shot from Mahrez before Delph blazed over on the loose ball.
Pickford made a super save to deny an own goal as Michael Keane deflected a cross from Gundogan towards goal. But seconds later the England keeper was unable to prevent Jesus opening the scoring as Sane fed him into space on the left after Gundogan had picked off a poor clearance from Mina.
The goal took away any doubts City may have had and they were quickly back into their pass and move style that so often destroys the confidence of their opponents. Another loose clearance from Pickford was picked off and from the resulting attack, it needed an interception at full stretch from Zouma to give City a corner.
A nice pass from Richarlison into the box for Coleman to cross saw Ederson dive to punch the ball away with Everton unable to make anything further of the loose ball. Fernandinho won a midfield ball from Gomes to fire a long ball for Sane that saw City win another corner as his shot was deflected over.
Pickford earned his corn with a smart stop from Mahrez as the ball fell nicely for him after a Gundogan shot was blocked, the attack coming again from loose play in midfield by Everton where City were showing instant control of almost every ball played.
Mahrez, cutting in off the right flank, played Jesus into space to net, but the offside flag was thankfully raised to deny City a second goal.
Two major lessons to be learned from the first half… stop over playing the ball at the back and improve our first touch and control !!!
Half Time: 1-0
Everton looked to try and push Kurt Zouma further forward in support of Gomes and Sigurdsson in midfield at the start of the second half, especially as Gomes had a slight limp from a knock received in the pre-game warm-up.
Barely five minutes into the second half, City doubled their lead as Jesus got between Keane and Mina to head home powerfully from eight yards on a cross from the left by Sane.
Laporte took a heavy knock to the jaw from Sigurdsson shortly after the goal and needed treatment before continuing.
On 56 minutes, Marco Silva went for an early double change in replacing Seamus Coleman and Bernard with Theo Walcott and Ademola Lookman, Walcott taking the captain’s armband from Coleman. The changes also saw a different formation with Everton reverting to a conventional back four, Zouma taking the place of Coleman on the right.
City were purring along nicely, comfortably retaining possession, out thinking and outplaying Everton and all the while preparing to bring Sterling on to add further to their offensive options.
Everton though hit back in the 65th minute as Lookman and Digne down the left combined for the Frenchman to cross and DCL to head home, albeit with a slight deflection off the forehead of Delph. Sterling was immediately introduced at the expense of a rather disgruntled Sane.
However with Evertonian hopes restored, City carved open an almost immediate and emphatic riposte, Fernandinho taking a return pass from Jesus to cross for Sterling to head home unmarked from eight yards just four minutes later.
Richarlison breaking forward from the halfway line took a return ball from Lookman only to fire his side-footed shot from the edge of the box well wide.
Lookman then caused more trouble for City down the left beating Delph to cross for Walcott who couldn’t control his effort
To add further insult to injury, Kevin de Bruyne made his long-awaited return from injury in the 75th minute replacing Mahrez for the home side.
Tempers threatened to spill over as DCL and Delph were booked after a series of tough challenges in the corner by Delph, Gomes and Laporte.
Lookman was now looking Everton’s best option and a twist and a turn on the edge of the City area saw him work an opening for a shot that sadly went well off target. Tom Davies replaced Gylf Sigurdsson with nine minutes to play, and took the captain’s armband from Theo Walcott.
DCL forced Ederson in a save low to his right with a right footed shot from a Walcott cross as Everton kept trying to force their way back into the game.
Lookman again applying pressure in midfield won the ball to find Richarlison whose shot was deflected wide by Laporte. From the corner, Mina went down in the area and reacted needlessly to Ederson helping him to his feet.
Pickford was quick off his line to clear from the edge of the box as City threatened a fourth score, while Phil Foden waited in vain to eventually not make a belated appearance from the City bench in added-on time.