The fact that so little was expected from this game — no doubt most of us hoped for a surprise but hope was all it was — doesn’t make the result or the relative ease of Manchester City’s victory any easier to take. Reflecting on just how good Pep Guardiola’s team is…? Well, that does make it a little more palatable but it also serves to underline just how big the gulf has become between what has been built at the Etihad over the past decade and where Everton currently find themselves despite huge (though not comparable)investment under Farhad Moshiri.
This is, on paper, a decent Blues squad, blessed with some very good players, but it remains weighed down by the recruitment mistakes of recent years, is severely lacking in terms of creativity and attacking depth, and still doesn’t play with a consistently discernible style. It is also short on self-belief, fatigued from a glut of fixtures over the past few weeks, and there was an uneasy inevitability about the way this match unfolded, even though Richarlison’s goal at the end of a really nice move had left the contest level at 1-1 at half-time.
By the end, City had won at Goodison Park by two goals for the fourth season running. The last time an Everton side beat the team at the top of the table was that memorable 4-0 thumping of the Citizens in January 2017 but apart from a creditable 1-1 draw at Eastlands in the early days of Ronald Koeman’s second season, Guardiola’s teams have had their way with Everton.
The Blues might have inflicted upon the visitors only their third goal in 17 matches and the first they have conceded from open play since 3rd January but City still ran out comfortable victors to open up a 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League, the reclaiming of their crown from Liverpool looking like a mere formality now. Their indifferent start to the season, when they were languishing in the bottom half and Everton were top with a 100% record seems like a long time ago now.
Back then, Everton had James Rodriguez in his pomp, Allan prowling in front of the defence and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring on a weekly basis. None of that trio were in the starting line-up this evening — Allan was, we hope, merely withheld for this weekend’s Merseyside derby, Calvert-Lewin missed a second successive game with a hamstring injury, and James was named among the substitutes after taking a minor knock in that horrendous defeat to Fulham last weekend.
In that respect, Carlo Ancelotti picked about as strong a side as he could to face City, although in view of his allusion on Sunday to his players’ tiredness, the decision to include Gylfi Sigurdsson rather Josh King, for instance, was a curious one. Even more curious was how and why the 30-year-old Icelander stayed on the pitch for the entire game, finishing the match as an ill-advised holding midfielder and racking up his 320th minute of consecutive action in the space of 11 days in the process.
The back four of Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina, Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey restored the strongest central defensive pairing and, as a whole, arguably the tightest defensive unit available to Ancelotti, even if it comes at the expense of some attacking dynamism. Lucas Digne played wide on the left, Alex Iwobi come in on the right and Richarlison was handed the Calvert-Lewin role… literally, as he spent much of the contest chasing the ball around and acting as target man for a succession of punts forward by Jordan Pickford, who also returned to the starting XI after four games out.
The pattern of the game was established early, with City bossing possession as only they can. Joao Cancelo a save from Pickford from distance that the keeper pushed away and a rare mistake by Tom Davies let Gabriel Jesus in but he fired over the bar.
Everton had struggled to get things going in forward areas but, nonetheless, had had some promising openings, not least when Digne swept a ball into the box that was met but Abdoulaye Doucouré but rather than go for a volleyed attempt on goal, he tried to tuck it inside for Richarlison but it hit a defender instead.
Ancelotti’s best-laid defensive plans were ruined after 17 minutes, however, when Mina was forced off with a calf problem and was replaced by Seamus Coleman, with Holgate moving inside to centre-half.
And in the 32nd minute, Everton fell behind. Another Manchester City corner was only headed as far as Riyad Mahrez, he twisted and turned before crossing for Rodri and when his header bounced off Keane and fell to Phil Foden, the young midfielder lashed a heavily deflected shot in past Pickford. The goal owed much to fortune but it had been coming.
To Everton's credit, they rallied rather than folded and equalised just six minutes later at the end of a fine move, the like of which that you wished they had produced more often. Sigurdsson found Iwobi down the right, he slipped a clever square pass into the box for Coleman and when Digne met the Irishman's floated chip with a left-foot volley, the ball bounced off the post and Richarlison was there virtually on the goal line to knock it in with his thigh.
Such moments of incisiveness were rare from the Toffees, though, and their defence was by far the busier in the second half. Holgate gifted the ball straight to Bernardo six minutes after the interval but Pickford parried the Portuguese's shot away and four minutes later, Kyle Walker played Jesus in but the Brazilian smashed his shot narrowly high and wide.
Sigurdsson had a half-chance at the other end when Iwobi picked him out on the edge of the box but his shot was blocked and looped into Edersen's arms and in the 63rd minute, City restored their lead. Bernardo laid a short pass off to Mahrez who had all the space he needed to line up a shot from 18 yards, bend it around Pickford and in off the post.
Ancelotti responded by withdrawing Davies and Iwobi, both of whom were hugely unfortunate to leave the field as both had done really well, in favour of King and James but a tiring Everton were unable to create anything of note.
Rodriguez had some nice touches and executed some lovely turns in the middle of the park but he had few options to carve out opportunities. Everton had shown in the first half the trouble they could cause when they had some adventure and threw bodies forward but they didn't do it nearly enough in the second half and it was City who wrapped things up 13 minutes from the end.
Sigurdsson lagged well behind Silva allowing him to run unchallenged across the edge of the area and drill a shot in off Pickford's gloves to make it 3-1. The more you see it, the more you question how, despite the power on the shot, the goalkeeper wasn’t able to get a strong hand on it it divert it past the post but frustrations over that part of the team are nothing new.
City almost added a cruel fourth in stoppage time when Sigurdsson simply gave the ball away in front of his own box but this time Mahrez was much less accurate, placing his effort wide of goal with just Pickford to beat.
If there are positives to take from this game they are that Everton at least gave a better account themselves than they did against Fulham (which also makes that performance in what was a far more important game that much more angering), Davies had another good game in defensive midfield, Richarlison’s energy and feistiness is back if not his confidence to beat his man, and Doucouré, despite being a bit sloppy with the ball at times, underscored just how important he is to this team as the dynamo in midfield.
Playing better, with more spirit and desire than they did against Fulham was the easy part but they couldn’t move the ball well enough and their passing ability pales in contrast to City’s. Most teams’ do but Everton’s reliance on Pickford’s erratic kicking, and deep or cross-field balls from defence or the flanks as opposed to moving it through midfield and getting sufficient bodies in the final third has been a limiting factor for much of the season. Much of this can be coached, of course; it's not all about buying top quality at sky-high prices but Everton sides aren't coached to play intricate, passing football.
Guardiola’s side are pretty irresistible when they’re at their best but even in second or third gear they were too much for the Toffees who have a long way to go in terms of quality and sheer footballing ability before they can even hope to match them. Everton only managed two shots on target in the 90 minutes and failed to force a single corner.
That’s the depressing part but also the part that requires patience and faith that it will eventually come. How long is anyone’s guess but Everton don't need to surpass City to achieve any of their goals in the League this season — the FA Cup is now a different matter, of course, and how daunting that Quarter Final tie next month now looks! — they simply need to better than one or two of the next five teams and at the moment that possibility is slipping away.
A win at Anfield would go a long way to changing the outlook once more but that’s a whole other game of rock bottom expectations and a lot of hope…
Everton started without Allan and Dominic Calvert-Lewin and played reasonably well but were no match for the quality and workrate of the Champions elect, who
Carlo Ancelotti makes a few changes from the side that started against Fulham on Sunday. The centre-back pairing of Keane and Mina is restored, Pickford and Iwobi are recalled.
Allan, however, might have had a set-back in his recovery as he is missing entirely from the squad. James Rodriguez is on the bench, along with Josh King, who is denied a start yet again despite Calvert-Lewin's absence.
Manchestter City kicked off and were content to play keep-ball with some admirable short-back-and-sides passing for the first 1½ minutes when an Everton player first touched the ball but it was immediately returned and Bernado Silva was invited to shoot, forcing a very good save out of Pickford, and an early corner that was defended away.
Everton got some forward possession but Holgate's cross was poor, and Godfrey had to concede another corner as City surged forward. City dominated until Everton suddenly played some exquisite football in a flowing move from Doucouré, trhough Sigurdsson and crossed by Digne that needed so much better from Doucouré at the end of it.
A third and then a fourth, then a fifth corner conceded at the home end inside 10 minutes but each defended well. Everton got some more chances to play near the City area but did not make much of them.
Everton had held their own without laying so much as a mitten on City, but the chances for them to score past Pickford had been limited. Richarlison had been seeing a lot more of the ball but Sigurdsson was not really influencing the game at all. Doucouré took out Jesus a little too strongly and earned himself a yellow card.
The goal for Man City finally came for Phil Foden just after the half-hour on a wild deflection of Coleman that gave Pickford no chance.
Doucouré stole the ball nicely to set up a cross from Iwobi that was... well, classic Iwobi. Totally wasted. D stole the ball again and this almost found Richarlison. It was then recycled and Digne's shot hit the post, came back to hit Ricjharlison's thigh and over the line 6 inches in front of him, to put the Blues back in the game.
More good play saw Sig play in Richarlison but his first touch was all wrong and a chance to shoot evaporated instantly. Richarlison should have had a dangerous free-kick when he tangled with ??? but the referee didn't see his leg get caught. Doucoure was alert to scoop the ball away from Foden at the other end.
With Richarlison still arguing ad then kicking the ball away, he got himself booked just before half-time. But honours even at the break and everything to play for.
The game resumed in similar fashion, with City dominating the play but not creating clear-cut chances, and Everton playing some football when got the ball. Bernado Silva tried to smash one past Pickford, who watched it and got down well to stop it.
Some great movement off a launched ball from Pickford was very well managed by Richarlison to play in Iwobi, but Sigurdsson's difficult shot was blocked. City sliced through the Blues to get Jesus a chance that he blazed over.
Everton were coming more and more into the contest and one move should have produced a lot more but Digne skied his cross. But yet another corner conceded saw Rodrigo with a clean header that he put wide.
More relentless patient build-up play from City ended in a fantastic shot from Marhrez that curled in, and smacked off the inside of the far post, into the Everton net. Completely unstoppable.
Ancelotti finally decided to bring on Josh King and James Rodriguez in an attempt to 'go for it', Davie and Iwobi replaced on 69 minutes. But it took a long while for them to see anything of the ball with time ticking away. James got to put in a deep free-kick but it was cleared; King failed in his exchange pass with James.
Coleman was at fault for hoofing the ball forward instead of finding James, and immediately following that, Bernardo SIlva found space for the shot and all Pickford could do was palm it into the side netting. Game, set and match. Sterling gave way to De Bruyne.
King got less than half a chance, chasing a bouncing ball in. The ball then fell awkwardly for Doucouré as Everton briefly threatened. But City resumed their intricate smooth passing and switching, working away to chisel out another chance while denying Everton time on the ball, unless it's to concede a corner.
Scorers: Richarlison (37'); Foden (32'), Mahrez (63')
Everton: Pickford, Mina, Keane, Holgate, Godfrey, Davies(69' Rodriguez), Doucoure [Y:28'], Digne, Sigurdsson, Iwobi (69' King), Richarlison [Y:43'].
Subs:Olsen, (18' Coleman), Nkounkou, Delph, Gomes, Bernard, Onyango.
Subs: Steffen, Stones, Aguero, Zinchenko, De Bruyne, Torres, Mendy, Fernandinho, Garcia
Referee: Andre Marriner
VAR: Simon Hooper
Everton's need to put Sunday's horrible performance against Fulham behind them, get back to winning ways, and revive their flagging hopes of sneaking into the top four comes up against the juggernaut that is Manchester City on Wednesday evening.
Carlo Ancelotti is preparing for this game, rescheduled following its controversial postponement last month, without Dominic Calvert-Lewin who will miss a second successive game with a hamstring problem which the manager confirmed during his pre-match press conference.
The striker injured his hamstring again during last week's FA Cup tie with Tottenham and is now hoping to recover in time for the Merseyside derby this coming weekend.
"Not available for sure [are] Dominic Calvert-Lewin and [Jean-Philippe] Gbamin," Ancelotti said. "I think it's a matter of days [for Calvert-Lewin]. We hope that he will be available on Saturday.
“[Jordan] Pickford yesterday trained and it was okay. We will check again today and if he's available he is going to play.
“Allan is in contention. He's fit, he's good. Had had the control on Monday and the control was okay so he's available to play. The others are all okay. They are going to train today.”
That means that despite hobbling out of the defeat to Fulham having taken another knock, James Rodriguez will be available, though it remains to be seen where he will be deployed and whether, as expected Ancelotti reverts back to his favoured defensive quartet of Mason Holgate, Yerry Mina, Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey with Lucas Digne pushed further forward in order to keep things tight.
It's the return of Allan, however, that is, perhaps, the biggest fillip for Ancelotti and a midfield that has lacked intensity and grit at times in recent weeks and which was badly overrun by the lowly Cottagers. The manager hasn't been able to name the Brazilian on his team sheet since early December but now that he has recovered from a torn hamstring, he can hopefully add his tenacity and grit in what will be a daunting fixture for the Toffees.
After making an indifferent start to the season, City have built up an ominous and impressive head of steam over the past few weeks and come to Goodison Park having set a new English top-flight record for successive victories with 16.
With last season's champions, Liverpool, falling away, it looks as though Pep Guardiola's side are on course to comfortably reclaim their crown and, even if Everton were fully fit and on their best form, getting three points from this game would represent a Herculean task.
As it is, Everton come into the game having failed to win a League game at Goodison Park since mid-December and it's four years since a Toffees side beat the Citizens in that famous 4-0 triumph under Ronald Koeman.
Given the sheer depth in quality at his disposal, it hardly feels like it matters but Guardiola will be without one of his stand-out performers in İlkay Gündoğan who picked up an injury at the weekend as City brushed Tottenham aside at the Etihad Stadium.
Sergio Agüero, who has missed a sizeable chunk of the campaign, will be in the squad but is unlikely to be risked and Kevin de Bruyne, who has been sidelined for the past few weeks, will travel to Merseyside having participated in full training but it's unclear if he will be in the starting XI.
With the likes of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and the in-form Phil Foden, City have plenty of other players at their disposal capable of beating anyone and Everton will have to be at their best to contain them.
Ancelotti told the media that he is confident his side will do well in this match and in the upcoming derby based on the fact that his team's last home wins came against Chelsea and Arsenal. While both of those games were played with the support of 2,000 home fans, it is true that the Blues have usually been able to raise their game against fancied opponents this season.
It's going to take something truly impressive to end City's phenomenal winning run but stranger things have happened…
Kick-off: 8:15pm, Wednesday 17 February 2021 on Amazon Prime
Referee: Andre Marriner
VAR: Simon Hooper
Last Time: Everton 1 - 3 Manchester City
Predicted Line-up Pickford, Godfrey, Mina, Keane, Digne, Allan, Doucouré, Sigurdsson, Rodriguez, Iwobi, Richarlison