Everton succumbed to defeat at the hands of Manchester City as two goals in two minutes late in the first half knocked the stuffing out of them. Ilkay Gundogan struck a terrific free kick to seal the victory early in the second half to leave Everton still needing ideally four points from the last two fixtures to retain Premier League status.
After that momentous 5-1 away win at Brighton last Monday evening, Everton faced even tougher opposition this Sunday as the defending champions Manchester City rocked up at Goodison.
Everton took a point from the game earlier in the season at the Etihad and boosted by that performance against Brighton, went into this game looking to repeat or improve upon that result against Pep Guardiola’s treble chasing squad.
Blues boss Sean Dyche was under no illusion as to the size of the task for his team when he said, “It’s not easy, they’re a top side performing fantastically well this season in a number of different competitions. I know they’ve got very good players, they’ve got a squad full of them, [Guardiola] might change things, rotate players. We can’t look at everything they do; we need to focus on what we do.”
He expanded further adding, “We’ve focused on that a lot since I’ve been here, some good signs, some not, but overall, there has been an adjustment in the mentality. It’s important to remind ourselves of the good players and good group we’ve got here. They’re a very good side, you’ve got to find a way of competing and if you do that properly and you play well then you’ve got a chance to win. The rules stay the same whoever it is you’re playing against, it’s just you’ve got to get all the details right against the top sides, particularly because Man City will work on you if you don’t get the details right.”
City won’t only have a motivated Everton side to face but, a partisan home support too, and Dyche referred to the part the fans are playing when he noted, “During this process, our fans have been amazing, I have never questioned the fans they’ve been amazing since I got here. Home and away. I always have an extra little bit of respect for away fans purely because it costs a lot of money, travelling, tickets and all the rest of it. Sorting your life out. So, I always think that’s an added respect level because it costs a lot of money for these people and a lot of effort to get places, especially places like Brighton because it’s miles away. We thank them for their backing.”
In squad news for the City clash, Sean Dyche advised that there were no fresh injuries following the long trip to Brighton. He confirmed that club captain Seamus Coleman had undergone surgery on the knee injury sustained in the 2-2 draw at Leicester, and that Andros Townsend had completed 45 minutes of an U21 game last weekend saying, “He’s early on in the process of getting truly fit but he’s started with us again, and it’s great for him because it’s been a long haul.”
Sean Dyche made just one change to the side that trounced Brighton when he announced his starting eleven:
Having earned a 1-1 draw in the Bernabeu against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, Manchester City came to Goodison one point ahead of Arsenal and with a game in hand over the Londoners, and clear favourites to retain the Premier League title. With the second leg of that Champions League semifinal to come on Wednesday and an FA Cup Final against neighbours United still to come, City under Pep Guardiola we’re still on course for a treble haul of silverware.
The City boss commented on Friday saying, “Goodison Park during my six seasons here always has been so difficult. For the environment and now for the momentum (they have). Sean Dyche is a good trainer of his team.”
He added on the possible distraction of the second game against the Galacticos, “It is also (difficult) because it’s between Champions League games but my thoughts are just on Everton, no more than that. We have to just focus on this game. We are eleven months working for Premier League, I don’t want to be distracted by the Real Madrid game.”
With a bit of a barbed comment towards the amount of games his side still potentially have to play, Guardiola said, “We don’t have much time, because we play Sunday. Thank you so much. It’s a real, real priority the game at Goodison Park. They have the history and quality of the team. Brighton is one of the toughest places to go. The result was a real impact not just in table, but in Everton’s mood. It’s a big result. Everton scored the first goal in the first minute at Brighton and got an incredible result. The defensive structure and physicality they have at Everton is really good. Everything can happen in a football game.”
With arguably the strongest squad in the Premier League to select from, Guardiola named his starting line-up: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Akanji, Rodri, Gundogan (c), Foden, Mahrez, Alvarez and Haaland.
On a pleasantly warm afternoon our referee was Anthony Taylor.
Yerry Mina and Haaland were spoken to inside the opening sixty seconds for a bout of push and shove, and again at the first stoppage for a throw-in. A good ball from Pickford for DCL saw him lay the ball off to Doucoure, the return ball for DCL being just too strong but, a good idea. Doucoure and McNeil combined to win the first corner that Dias headed clear with City then under pressure as Everton pressed not allowing them to clear their zone easily.
Holgate conceded a feee kick to Mahrez, DCL with a good header cleared to touch. Tarkowski cleared a Foden cross and DCL released Iwobi down the right flank, City getting back in a hurry to quell the threat. Another decent break again saw City having to funnel back after DCL got the better of Laporte. Foden won a first corner for City off Patterson and DCL headed a curling effort from Alvarez away as Mina went down in the area in what looked like becoming an increasingly physical battle with Haaland.
Through twenty minutes and Everton were not overawed by City, defending competently and causing City some headaches on the counter attack. Good covering by Gana Gueye denied Gundogan at the cost of a corner that was completely wasted by Alvarez. A third City corner from their left again failed to produce as they over elaborated and Gundogan curled a cross over the bar.
A free kick from McNeil saw Walker concede a corner to Everton and Ederson was forced to punch the ball clear and the Blues closing down Haaland to prevent him getting free. City won another left wing corner and Mahrez blasted high and wide from the edge of the area. Walker on an overlap with Mahrez won a corner on the right and again, City failed to make anything of it through trying to be too clever and the Blues standing firm.
DCL was felled as the Blues looked to counter and great cover by McNeil denied Alwarez as City cleared long from their own area. Now Everton broke quickly with Garner finding DCL and Walker getting back quickly to concede a corner that fell to Holgate who couldn’t get a clean strike. Rodri shot from distance but, without the direction or power to overly trouble Jordan Pickford.
City took a 37th minute lead almost from nothing as a ball into the danger area from Mahrez was controlled and hooked home by Gundogan – tough on Everton who did not deserve to be behind. But when City get a lead, they look to punish their opponents and less than two minutes later, Haaland headed a second from close range off a Gundogan cross.
Not surprisingly, the two goals in such quick succession stunned both the team and supporters as to this point Everton, whilst second best in terms of possession, had given a good account of themselves, belying the huge gap between the two sides in the table standings.
City wasted a free kick after Mina pushed Haaland over, who for a big man goes down very easily when challenged. Two added minutes were announced as City tried to walk in a third goal, Haaland again going down in the build up and at the break, the Blues – somewhat unfortunately – trailed by two.
Half Time: 0-2
Neal Maupay for DCL for the start of the second half was presumably an injury enforced change for Sean Dyche and the Blues. James Garner saw the games first yellow card after bringing down Foden who needed some treatment to his right knee and Dundogan struck a sublime free kick around and over the wall into the top corner.
Mahrez went down far too easily to win a free kick off Holgate and Garner did well to turn the deflected shot out for a corner. On 55 minutes, Conor Coady and Amadou Onana replaced Mason Holgate and Idrissa Gana Gueye respectively to try and prevent a rout.
A low cross from Patterson was too far in front of Maupay and as Everton came again, McNeil over hit a cross from the left. Onana won a corner off Dias as Everton tried to get back into the game while the witless City fans taunted with chants of “you’re going down.” City cleared the corner and a loose pass from Maupay gave them the chance to break and Haaland tried a speculative bicycle kick shot that Coady blocked and cleared.
Garner fed Patterson for a cross that was cleared and some Everton pressure ended with Akanji fouled by Doucoure. Dwight McNeil won a corner on the left that Ederson punched behind for another from the right and then turned over a towering g header from Tarkowski, with the third corner in quick succession seeing Onana head down but, the ball bounce up and over the bar.
Into the final twenty minutes and McNeil pushed over Mahrez, possibly frustrated at City’s tedious overpassing of the ball. Haaland whinged again after going down as Pickford came for a cross and another change on 75 minutes saw Demarai Gray replace James Garner.
Silva and Grealish were City changes after they’d hurriedly cleared an Iwobi cross, Gundogan and Haaland making way in the 78th minute. Into the final ten minutes and some Blues fans had seen enough and were probably bored by City and frustrated at them getting every decision until a throw-in favour of Everton brought ironic cheers.
Three goals up and boring Goodison to tears, City prepared to bring on Phillips for a late cameo appearance after defending an Everton corner. McNeil crossed deep from the left as Everton valiantly looked for a consolation and Mahrez eventually made way for Phillips on 88 minutes.
City for all their silky skills and devastating offensive play are at times tedious to watch… I don’t recall the powerful Everton side of the mid 1980’s ever being tedious to watch, and we were treated to a further four minutes as they made another utterly meaningless chance as Gomez replaced Dias.
There have been times this season when Everton have been boo’ed off at Goodison after a home defeat but, thousands of Evertonians remained in their seats to give the players a generous round of applause for their efforts not just in this game but, for the points gained at Leicester and Brighton… and to signal that the support will be there again away at Wolves and in the final home game against Bournemouth.