Two goals from just three shots on target saw Manchester City climb to top spot but, this was not the walk in the park many expected as Everton defended superbly throughout and were somewhat unfortunate to succumb to two late strikes from Haaland.
Everton travelled to the Etihad Stadium with absolutely nobody other than dyed in the wool Evertonians expecting anything other than what absentee owner Farhad Moshiri would refer to as an ‘expected defeat’ against a City side and squad overloaded with talent and goalscoring threats.
City are right back in the race for the Premier League title having come from behind to win at Brentford in midweek courtesy of a hat trick from Phil Foden and boosted by the return of Kevin de Bruyne to their ranks. The defending champions are on a run of nine straight victories in all competitions and are still in the hunt for a haul of three trophies and were they to retain the Premier League title, it would be their fourth on the trot.
Not normally one to single out players, City boss Pep Guardiola did this week when highlighting the part midfielder Rodri has played in the Manchester clubs continuing run of success when he noted, “He pays attention and he’s an incredible professional in the training sessions. Never since I arrived in the training sessions have I seen him a little bit flat or a little bit distracted. He’s always focused and always encouraging his mates. He’s a true, true leader on the pitch.”
And as if to emphasise the depth and quality available to him, Guardiola made no fewer than four changes when he named his starting line-up: Ederson, Stones, Akanji, Dias (c), Ake, Nunes, Rodri, Foden, Alvarez, Doku and Haaland.
Blues boss Sean Dyche knew the task facing his players was a tough one when he commented on the opposition saying, “They’ve got strength in depth, they’ve got strength in how they work, and they’re a great outfit, without a shadow of a doubt. But you take all these games on. That’s the mentality we want to continue to build here. No matter who you’re playing against, take it on with that clear mindedness to go to focus on you.”
He added, “They are in good form and can make many changes due to their squad depth. It is difficult, they are a very good side – we all know that. The mixture has got to be right; you have to defend well but play well and take your chances when they come your way.”
Despite being banished from the touchline technical area for his 300th top flight game, Sean Dyche kept faith in the side that startted last week against Spurs as he named an unchanged starting eleven from the side thus: Jordan Pickford, Ben Godfrey, James Tarkowski (c), Jarrad Branthwaite, Vitalii Mykolenko, Ashley Young, James Garner, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Dwight McNeil, Jack Harrison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
For this dry, still midday kick off, John Brooks was our referee.
City kicked off with the Blues in their salmon pink away strip attacking the end where the usual sold-out travelling support were ensconced in the first half. City won the first corner as Tarkowski put a cross behind, and Pickford with a good punch cleared the initial cross by Alvarez. A raking cross field ball from Tarkowski found Mykolenko in space to tee up McNeil for a cross that was far too high for DCL and City cleared a second ball into the area from Young. Everton came again and Ederson did well to save at the feet of Godfrey although the collision saw the Brazilian need some treatment.
Harrison latched onto a loose City pass to play in DCL who probably had a bit more time to pick his option but, went for an optimistic lob that was off target. Through the opening 15 minutes though, Everton were pressing City in midfield and denying them space and time to get into their rhythm. McNeil blocked a shot from Alvarez found by Haaland and then Godfrey did likewise to deny Doku from troubling Jordan Pickford.
City were dominating the possession, as expected but, were finding Everton offering dogged resistance as McNeil blocked another effort from Foden cutting in off the right flank looking for an opening to shoot. Doku took a ball from Stones to get clear of Godfrey, his low ball into the area for Haaland calmly and well cleared by Branthwaite. A free kick inside the City half saw McNeil find the head of DCL but, his knockdown header was easily gathered by Ederson
Doku again got away from both McNeil and Doku to cross for Haaland who put his header high and wide but, the City ploy to test Godfrey with Doku was clear for all to see, and something that Everton needed to address as we approached the half hour mark. Stones set Foden free down the right and his ball into the area for Nunes saw a great block by Tarkowski at the expense of a corner that was defended. City were piling forward and Doku again left Godfrey trailing in his wake before his low ball was hooked clear. Everton were being restricted to rare counter attacks and too many saw the final ball either overhit or fail to be controlled.
Pickford was lightning fast off his line to prevent Nunes getting to a through ball from Foden and when the Blues countered, a cross from the left by McNeil was gain played too strong for DCL to get on the end of. A cross from Ashley Young from right by the corner flag saw Dias only play the ball to Harrison who blazed his shot high and wide.
Into the final five minutes of the half and Everton were having their best sell of possession albeit, without creating too much but, certainly making City work harder than they probably expected having to. Godfrey blocked a shot from Ake as City came again before City were given a free kick to the right of the Everton area for the slightest of contact on Foden by Mykolenko, Everton packing the area to easily defend the set piece.
City for all their possession and pressure still hadn’t recorded an effort on target and that was enormous credit to the game plan of Sean Dyche. A minimum of three added minutes as announced, for the delay when Ederson was hurt early on, and Mykolenko blocked another cross out for a corner as City poured forward, the set piece seeing another great block by Tarkowski. City won two more late corners that failed to produce and at the break, Everton were fully deserving of the nil-nil scoreline.
Half Time: 0-0
Somewhat unexpectedly, the same starting elevens began the second half as most pundits and observers fully expected Guardiola to have used the quality available to him from the bench straight away.
After an early effort from DCL that went wide, City again looked to impose themselves particularly through Doku against Godfrey before Alcarez nearly hit the corner flag with a shot from 25 yards. City were double-teaming Foden and Nunes on their right against Mykolenko with the Ukrainian international handling them well with Branthwaite in support on his inside.
Rodri with a good ball for Doku saw him cross toward Haaland with Tarkowski again providing the block and allowing Pickford to easily the loose ball. Ben Godfrey needed a moment of treatment. Gana Gueye was the first booking of the game for a foul on Foden who’d switched to play a bit more centrally and Ben Godfrey went down again as City prepared to make changes.
Seamus Coleman replaced Ben Godfrey on 55 minutes and a clear push by Haaland on Branthwaite provided the stoppage for City to withdraw Akanji and Nunes for Walker and de Bruyne a minute later.
Coleman, on the overlap to take a ball from Young, crossed toward DCL with Dias clearing hurriedly and we passed the hour mark with Branthwaite defending well to deny Alvarez – the Everton support responding with more noise. Haaland took a return ball from Doku to cross into the six yard area where McNeil was clam in conceding another City corner that was defended well, and as Everton looked to counter, Walker fouled Garner to stop their progress – a blue card offence maybe in the future??
Doku got away from Coleman and won a corner off Tarkowski that Garner headed clear. Rodri blazed a shot from distance high and wide and Dwight McNeil needed treatment after being felled by Stones in the build-up to the Rodri effort. A superb tackle by Garner prevented de Bruyne from racing clear down the City left, and Garner then got back to block a cross from Walker out for another corner. The corner was put behind again with Everton claiming a goal kick and from the deep cross by Alvarez, the ball wasn’t cleared and fell for Haaland whose instant shot hit the back of the net on 71 minutes despite a valiant effort from Pickford to save it. The goal was rough justice on Everton who had defended so well to this point.
Fifteen minutes left to play and could Everton find a way back to claim a point and they prepared Beto to come on to offer a battering ram type presence. Alarez was replaced by Silva while Everton made a double change with Beto and Amadou Onana replacing DCL and Ashley Young respectively on 77 minutes.
Branthwaite found Onana in midfield and he split the City rearguard to find Beto who curled an effort wide before the offside flag was raised against him. Haaland whined like a spoilt brat when a good tackle by Branthwaite went into touch off him before a long ball from Garner for Beto saw Ederson clear into touch. Walker blocked a cross from McNeil out for a throw-in as Everton pushed forward and it led to City doubling their lead as Ake broke up the next Everton foray to feed de Bruyne and he set Haaland away against Branthwaite and he got free, with the help of a push, to beat the onrushing Pickford to cement the victory with less than four minutes of normal time remaining.
Lewis Dobbin and Youssef Chermiti came on for two-minute cameo roles replacing Dwight McNeil and Idrissa Gana Gueye. Beto was denied a consolation goal by the offside flag as he was found by Dobbin and beat Ederson at his near post and an incredible ten added minutes were announced.
Foden saw a week shot easily held by Pickford in the 95th minute. James Garner was the second Everton player to see a yellow card for a foul on Grealish who’d come on for Doku and City seemed perfectly happy to just pass the ball around to see out time. De Bruyne put a late lob over Pickford but onto the roof of the net and that was that.
The result was a loss for Everton but, in many ways this was a moral victory and if you’re undecided who to give your Man of the Match vote to, look no further than James Tarkowski who was outstanding throughout.