In what Blues fans hope wasn’t a portent of what is to come next season, Everton debuted their 2021-22 away kit at the Etihad Stadium today but it was less The Black Watch and more the death watch as the last breaths were extinguished from European-qualification hopes that had been on life support for a few weeks and effectively died a week ago with that horrible defeat to Sheffield United.
Manchester City, true to their exacting manager’s footballing philosophy, were merciless. Pep Guardiola eschewed any notion that his mind and those of his players was on Saturday’s Champions League Final against Chelsea. He named an almost full-strength line-up, watched them tear the Blues apart and still had plenty of time to bring on the departing Sergio Agüero for his triumphant swan song. Just as they were for Arsenal’s title party in 1998 and Leicester’s in 2016, Everton were obliging guests who laid down the welcome mat and got trampled amid the revelry.
It was sobering, pretty humiliating and, perhaps most alarmingly, not all that surprising; the final ignominious chapter in a season that promised so much but ended on perhaps as flat a note as it could for a team that sat in second place in the Premier League on Boxing Day.
So much seemed possible heading into the New Year, not least because Carlo Ancelotti was fashioning his side into one of the most effective away from home. Increasingly, the formula was a simple one centred around discipline, hard work and the deployment of the low block, in the expectation that the Toffees could pinch a goal on the break or from a set-piece and then dig in for the points.
Aided by the lack of home supporters, it worked an impressive number of times which is why it was curious that the Italian chose a game away at the newly-crowned Champions who had fans in the stands for the first time since February last year, to abandon the tactics that had served him so well to this point.
By his own admission Everton tried to play further up the pitch and take the game to City and while it was laudable in the context of his pressing need to win today to have any chance of making the Europa Conference League — Lord knows, if he’s tried that a bit more at home this year, Europe might have been a certainty — in retrospect it was puzzlingly naïve. After all, his team had contained the same opposition for 80-odd minutes in the FA Cup just a few weeks ago but on this occasion any platform Everton might have wanted to step things up in the second half to try and win was swept away within a quarter of an hour’s play.
The visitors did have some bright moments in the early exchanges and Dominic Calvert-Lewin forced the first save of the game from Ederson when he was put in the clear by Gylfi Sigurdsson but his shot from the angle was foiled by the Brazilian.
Jordan Pickford made a similar stop at the other end to deny Gabriel Jesus but the floodgates opened in the 11th minute when Kevin De Bruyne's run into an ocean of space in front of Everton's defence went untracked and he had the time to pick his spot with a typically excellent finish inside the far post.
Three minutes later, Michael Keane (who was pretty dreadful on the day) was caught trying to dribble through a clutch of City players near the halfway line and the hosts pounced, with De Bruyne picking out Jesus who easily turned Mason Holgate (who was even worse than Keane) and fired home to make it 2-0.
A potential route back into the game for the Toffees arrived 10 minutes before the break, though, in a moment of controversy where Everton felt that Ruben Dias should have been sent off for denying Richarlison a goalscoring opportunity.
The Brazilian raced onto a through-ball and was caught by the Portuguese defender's slide-tackle and then clattered by Ederson, with referee Michael Oliver electing to only yellow-card Dias.
Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up to take the penalty but placed his shot at the idea height for the goalkeeper and Ederson pushed it away while Richarlison's shot from the rebound was charged down by a recovering defender.
Another claim for a spot-kick, this time for a possible foul on Calvert-Lewin, was waved away before Riyad Mahrez rattled Pickford's crossbar from 25 yards out as City finished the first half on top.
Sigurdsson's wayward shot from distance a few minutes into the second half largely summed up Everton's diminishing attacking impetus and Phil Foden made it 3-0 eight minutes after half-time with another impressive finish. Abdoulaye Doucouré's loose pass was cut out on in the centre-circle and City attacked quickly with Jesus finding Raheem Sterling who then passed for Foden to sidestep Holgate in the box and tuck home his shot.
Ancelotti sent on Alex Iwobi for Doucouré and then Bernard for Sigurdsson but neither player made much impact. Instead it became the Agüero send-off party as Tom Davies became the latest player to be dispossessed cheaply in his own half and Agüero navigated his way around Holgate before guiding the ball into the far corner with the outside of his boot with 20 minutes left.
Six minutes after that, Everton's misery was complete. Fernandinho crossed from the right for Agüero who had positioned himself inside the 10 yards of space between Godfrey and Keane and the Argentine steered a header beyond Pickford's reach to make it five.
Pickford denied the striker a hat-trick with strong hands to push away his fierce shot from the angle and then turned aside a header from a corner before saving well once more from Sterling in stoppage time.
In the final reckoning, even had Everton managed to pull off the improbable against a City side that exists in another universe to ours, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Displaying a good deal more spirit and enterprise than has been in evidence from the Toffees in recent weeks, Tottenham Hotspur came back from 2-1 down to beat Champions League hopefuls Leicester 4-2 at the King Power stadium, thereby securing a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League.
For Everton, the wait to play Continental football again must wait at least another year but of more immediate concern is the way what was, as recently as March, a hugely promising season has unravelled so dramatically with Ancelotti seemingly powerless to do anything about it.
Everton went into the final match of the 2020-21 season with European football supposedly still within their grasp but ended up providing limp cannon fodder for the ebullient champions amidste a rampant farewell to Sergio Aguero.
Ancelotti was without James Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman. James had been given permission by the club to return to Colombia to begin preparations for the Copa America, while Coleman had to come off in the second half against Wolves with an injury so Ancelotti brings Holgate back in at right-back against the newly-crowned Champions.
Doucouré and Davies are reunited in central midfield with Allan. Otherwise, the starting line-up is unchanged, but the bench is depleted with Mina missing with, yet again, two goalkeepers and only 6 outfield players.
Everton play in their newly unveiled 'Black Watch' away strip for next season, featuring a stylish 'burnt orange' sash that has stirred up some old enmities amongst the fanbase. Rather a pity as the club's fanfare for t says: "Everton's 2021-22 away kit — designed to celebrate 140 years of togetherness within the Everton community."
It was party time for the Citizens with Everton players lining p for a guard of honour to the Champions, and then all the players doing likewise for Serio Aguero.
Everton kicked off but City were soon knocking it about, exhibition style, befitting the auspicious occasion with plucky little Everton the invited guests to make up the numbers and provide them with some target practice in preparation for next weekend's Champions League Final.
Everton got a little bit of possession, and Sigurdsson fired a weak shot straight to Edison. Calvert-Lewin was then played in with a nice pass and he tested Edison a little with a shot to his side that the City keeper got down well to. Jesus got in closer on Pickford, who came out well to save, and the Black Watch repelled CIty's early corner until Richarlison pathetically pulled back Marhez: automatic yellow card. Stones headed the set-piece high over the Everton goal.
Some simple clean passing and a nice build-up saw De Bruyne pounce on a chance and lash it past Pickford to open the scoring. Everton's resistance lasted almost 11 minutes.
The second goal came 2 minutes later, as Keane dribbled needlessly into a midfield ambush and City surged forward, Jesus made no mistake. Utterly embarrassing.
Everton's football got worse, Godfry needlessly forcing Pickford to save a corner by lashing the ball out. Richarlison, who should really be taken off, then fouled Jesus, but Everton cleared the set-piece with no further damage sustained.
Holgate was next in the book, getting beaten easily by Foden and then sliding in late for another dangerous set-piece, De Bruyne forcing a great save by Pickford, with City now totally dominating the play. Doucouré did well to stop Foden.
Everton tried valiantly to venture upfield but found it challenging to retain the ball, while City relaxed their tempo. Allan fed Richarlison for a clumsy shot as Stones ran across him, but it won Everton a corner. That led to a rapid break by De Bryune who Digne did well to stay up with.
Richarlison got free and was pulled down by Diaz before he could shoot, a clear attempt to deny a goalscoring opportunity... and a penalty, but not a red card — only yellow, of course. And of course, Sigurdsson could not beat Edison with a very predictable and savable shot from the spot. Fernandinho was cleared by VAR of encroaching, even though he was well inside the dee, but it's one rule for the Champions...
Calvert-Lewin seemed to be taken down near the spot in Everton's next attack but of course no penalty given. Richarlison then tried hard to work an angle and claimed his shot was stopped by a handball, but still nothing from VAR. At the other end, a good Mahrez shot smacked off the face of Pickford's crossbar with the Everton keeper rooted.
Pickford did very well to stop Sterling with a tackle but maybe the City man pulled back under the circumstances, as half-time arrived.
Sigurdsson forced an early corner after the break but nothing came of it. Sigurdsson tried to show he could still shoot from distance... and failed miserably to come anywhere near the target.
Everton forced another corner that was delivered in well but Stones was at the sweet spot. That led to a deflected Foden shot and a corner that Dias powered straight at Pickford. Foden did then make it 3 after Doucoure was dispossessed on the half-way line, finishing off another simple move that caught Everton cold.
Rodrigo came on and missed an open goal set-up, as Ancelotti did his ever so predictable subs: Iwobi and Bernard. Godfrey did well to cut out a Sterling cross at the expense of a corner. At the other end, for once, Richarlison passed nicely to the feet of Calvert-Lewin but he just skipped over the ball rather than trying to shoot, and allowed the defender to nip in and take the ball. No determination whatsoever.
Aguero's going away party then swung into full force. Everton's Mission Impossible, should they choose to accept it, was to stop him scoring. But it was Iwobi who produced his best work of the season (no, seriously) only Richarlison, with the ball played perfectly to feet, could not dig out a shot and the chance evaporated.
But of course they couldn't stop Agüero scoring, the ball stolen off Davies as Everton moved forward, leaving City acres of space to create his penultimate moment of glory. The next was to make it 5-0 with a ridiculous unmarked header. Pickford then stopped two efforts at a hat-trick with two fine save.
The exhibition stuff came out but at least Everton and especially Pickford did what they could to keep the score in single digits.
What a dismal end to a season that started so well, with Everton topping the table, to now be humbled by the Champions and pummeled down to a dreadful finish in 10th place with the ultimate ignominy of a negative goal difference. The biggest ever defeat suffered by Carlo Ancelotti in an otherwise stellar football career as player and manager.
Kick-off: 4pm, Sunday 23 May 2021 on Sky Sports Premier League
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias [Y:41'], Stones, Zinchenko, Fernandinho (C), Mahrez (65' Agüero), De Bruyne, Foden (57' Rodrigo), Sterling [Y:68'], Jesus (74' Torres).
Subs not Used: Steffen, Aké, Gündogan, Laporte, Bernardo, Mendy.
Everton: Pickford, Holgate [Y:22'], Godfrey, Keane, Digne, Allan, Davies, Doucouré (57' Iwobi), Sigurdsson (59' Bernard), Richarlison [Y:7'] (78' Nkounkou), Calvert-Lewin.
Subs not Used: Virginia, Olsen, Gomes, Coleman, John.
Referee: Michael Oliver
VAR: Darren England
Everton go into the final match of the 2020-21 season with European football still within their grasp but in the knowledge they will probably need to pull off a surprise victory at Manchester City in order to seize it.
A place in the inaugural Europa Conference League is still possible for the Blues despite their horrendous home form that has seen them tumble from 2nd place on Boxing Day to 8th going into the last day of the season and there is a danger they could finish 10th if results elsewhere go against them.
A win on a ground where they haven't won for a decade will see them claim 7th spot and entry to European competition for the first time since Ronald Koeman's spell as manager if Tottenham don't win at Leicester. A draw for Carlo Ancelotti's side will be enough if Spurs lose and Arsenal don't beat Brighton at the Emirates.
Ancelotti will be without James Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman, for the trip to the Etihad Stadium, however. James was withdrawn from contention for Wednesday's win over Wolves, is ruled out this time because of his ongoing calf issues, and has been given permission by the club to return to Colombia to begin preparations for the Copa America.
Coleman, meanwhile, had to come off in the second half with an injury so Ancelotti will need to make changes to his right flank against the newly-crowned Champions. That will pose something of a dilemma for the Italian who will need to decide whether to deploy the five-man back line that has been in so many away games this season or continue with what has recently morphed into something more akin to 4-4-2, with Coleman playing right midfield.
In either case, Alex Iwobi or Bernard would be the most likely candidates to replace the skipper, unless Ancelotti wants to push someone like the more defensively-minded Abdoulaye Doucouré into the role and bring Tom Davies into central midfield to assist Allan. Otherwise, the line-up is likely to remain unchanged.
For City, this will be their coronation party in front of 10,000 fans but Pep Guardiola will have at least one eye on Saturday's Champions League final against Chelsea. The Spaniard has insisted that the six-day interval between the two games means that he won't need to rest his best players but, given the awesome depth of his squad, it's almost inconceivable that he won't leave out a few of his biggest names.
One player almost guaranteed to play a part is Sergio Agüero who plays his last game for the Citizens before leaving on a free transfer for Barcelona but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden start on the bench.
Everton will fall back on their terrific away record as they seek to slay another of their long-standing away hoodoos. The Blues have won 11 times on the road this season and a win at the Etihad would equal the club's record for away wins in a season.
What happens elsewhere will be out of their hands but with it being 11-vs-11 on the day, anything can happen and Everton simply need to treat it as a one-off cup tie and go for it, quality of the opposition be damned.
Kick-off: 4pm, Sunday 23 May 2021 on Sky Sports Premier League
Referee: Michael Oliver
VAR: Darren England
Last Time: Manchester City 2 - 1 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Godfrey, Keane, Mina, Digne, Davies, Allan, Doucouré, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin