Everton succumbed in expected fashion to the Manchester City juggernaut, going down to a 3-1 defeat at Goodison Park.
Buoyed by a solid home record under Sam Allardyce, the Blues were hoping to extend Pep Guardiola's frustrations when facing them in the Premier League but the Spaniard's team dismantled their hosts with a dominant first-half display.
With their maestro David Silva pulling the strings in midfield and Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling providing the energy in forward areas, the Champions-elect had no need for a conventional striker as they carved Everton up three times before half time.
The Blues improved slightly after the break once City had taken their foot off the accelerator and Yannick Bolasie scored what proved to be a consolation goal rather than the catalyst for a dramatic fight back 18 minutes after the break.
Shorn of the work rate and tenacity of Idrissa Gueye and Gylfi Sigurdsson in midfield, Allardyce recalled Morgan Schneiderlin and deployed Wayne Rooney alongside him, in a formation that included three attack-minded players Bolasie, Theo Walcott and Dominic Calvert-Lewin playing behind Cenk Tosun.
Everton were quickly overrun in the middle of the park, however, and
there were just four minutes on the clock in the first period when Silva engineered the opening goal, picking up a return pass to get to the byline and cut the ball back for Leroy Sané to despatch a crisp volley inside Jordan Pickford's near post.
It's unlikely, given the early pattern of the contest, that the 12th minute could be looked back upon as a turning point but it underscored the stark differences in execution between the two sides.
At one end, Calvert-Lewin managed to keep the ball in to clip a teasing cross for Bolasie but the winger planted a free header over the crossbar from close range. Starting with goalkeeper Ederson, the visitors broke attacked swiftly from the resulting free kick and had doubled their lead within seconds. Sané sent Kevin de Bruyne clear down the right and Gabriel Jesus buried his accurate centre with a strong header.
Silva saw one effort deflect off Phil Jagielka into the side-netting and drilled narrowly wide from a similar position later in the half while Kyle Walker scuffed a good chance to make it 3-0 as City continued their offensive posture. Everton, meanwhile, went close themselves when Leighton Baines curled a direct free kick the wrong side of the post after Walcott had been tripped outside the box.
Guardiola's men eventually got the killer third eight minutes before half time. An Everton attack broke down in City's defensive third and, again, the visitors countered quickly as Silva was released into space down their left flank. With Michael Keane struggled to keep pace, the Spaniard's low centre found Sterling in the middle and he swept home despite a last-ditch lunge by Baines.
11 minutes after half time, Fernandinho almost made it 4-0 when his speculative drive from outside the box took a heavy deflection off Calvert-Lewin, wrong-footing Pickford but the England international got a strong palm to the ball to divert it to safety.
Great work by Tom Davies, a 57th-minute introduction for Rooney, then paved the way for Everton's goal. He squared the ball to Calvert-Lewin who fed Bolasie and the Congolese winger squeezed a shot from the edge of the area that caught the edge of one post and bounced in off the other.
Tosun headed a foot or so wide from a corner three minutes later that would have made a game of it had it gone in; instead, City coasted to a victory that brings them to within one win of the title.
For the Toffees, it was probably an “expected loss” in almost every way, with a repeat of last season's dream result a distant proposition from the outset. The feeling of futility and wishing that this season could j=ust end was reflected in the growing expanses of empty seats inside Goodison as the second half wore on.
After another seemingly interminable International Break, Everton take on Champions-elect Manchester City at Goodison Park with an injury-hit line-up with Schneiderlin starting.
The midfield is particularly hard-hit with additional injuries to Idrissa Gueye and Tom Davies hampered with a neck injuryt on top of long-term problems for James McCarthy and Gylfi Sigurdsson, with Mason Holgate missing from the defence. Ashley Williams serves the final game of his 3-match suspension.
Walcott, Schneiderlin, Rooney, and Bolasie make up a four-man midfield behind Calvert-Lewin, and Tosun, with Davies, Funes Mori, Vlasic and Baningime on the bench, were Davy Klaassen is conspicuous by his absence in the circumstances.
Everton were forced to kick-off playing against the Gwladys Street and were on the back foot by the time City fired in the first goal on 4 minutes, a brilliant volley from Sane.
The Blues eventually got on the ball and won a free-kick wide right for Rooney to deliver deep, headed wide by Jagielka. Calvert-Lewin chase down a lost ball and crossed perfectly from the byeline for Bolasie who incredibly headed over when it was easier to score.
City showed how to do it from the goal kick, a fantastic sweeping move, De Bryune crossing brilliantly and Gabriel Jesus showed how to head the ball, burying it past Pickford. 2-0 inside 12 mins!
Sane and Sterling were invited to score in the next attack. At the other end, Laporte fouled Walcott, setting up a chance for Baines from the set-piece, curled over the wall and away from goal.
Everton were getting slaughtered in midfield, Rooney intent on helping City build new attacks, win corners, and threaten a cricket score in response to their now rather distant 4-0 defeat in this game last season.
Calvert-Lewin got behind the City defence but his pass inside was simply awful and possession returned to the side in maroon for more silky passing by way of painful contrast. Bolasie's attempt to dispossess De Bryune was simply pathetic, giving away a needless free-kick leading to another City corner, their total dominance now leading to a relaxed pace and a totally deflated atmosphere in 'Fortress Goodison'.
Everton actually had a spell of possession around the City area but nothing came of it. City swept forward, Silva looking offside, galloping ahead and laying the third on a plate for Sterling.
A few more City corners before half-time, a few more practice potshots, before an enforced break in the football exhibition, City having had 82% of the possession.
Baines did well to disrupt the one-way traffic after the break and Tosun won a corner. Bolasie did better to dispossess Otamendi but his cross was hopeless. Another City attack needed a desperate block to stop the final shot. Pickford did well to keep out a horribly deflected shot from Fernandinho. Davies was soon introduced as a replacement for Rooney.
Out of very little, Bolasie was able to drive a shot in off the post following good work by Davies and Calvert-Lewin to get the ball to him. A consolation goal that would "win the second half" in Allardyce's demented view of the game.
Everton won another corner that Tosun headed just wide as Keane barged him, and the Blues finally started to show a little fight, rousing some belated interest from the diminishing crowd. But it did not last long as the game was played out at a much reduced intensity, apart from a little flurry in the final minute of added time.
Scorers: Bolasie (63'); Sane (4'), Jesus (12'), Sterling (36').
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Walcott, Schneiderlin, Rooney (56' Davies), Bolasie, Calvert-Lewin (75' Baningime), Tosun (79' Niasse).
Subs not Used: Robles, Martina, Funes Mori, Vlasic.
Manchester City: Ederson, Kompany, Laporte (87' Danilo), Otamendi, Walker, Fernandinho, De Bruyne (77' Gündogan), Silva, Sane, Sterling (64' Bernardo), Jesus.
Subs not Used: Bravo, Adarabioyo, Zinchenko, Nmecha.
Referee: Paul Tierney
Everton enter the home straight of a turbulent season with the first of two challenging home games as Champions-elect Manchester City come to town for the televised late afternoon kick-off on Saturday.
Any lingering threat of relegation has been banished by the first back-to-back league victories the Blues have recorded since December but the mood among the fanbase will be tempered by frustration with a lost season and uncertainty over the managerial position — and, possibly, the director of football role above him — heading into the summer.
Certainly, there won't be the same feeling of optimism and expectancy for what could be achieved as there was after the last time City came to Goodison Park… or, indeed, after the 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium last August.
This was, of course, the fixture last season that had most Evertonians believing that Ronald Koeman's reign as Toffees boss was finally starting to beat fruit. Despite starting his time at Goodison with four wins in five, his first campaign in charge had taken a stark turn for the worse over the autumn.
Starting with a stirring win over Arsenal in mid-December, however, Everton's home form began to turn around and they would win seven more of their next Premier League games on their own turf, with the 4-0 demolition of Pep Guardiola's men standing out as the jewel among them.
It was an afternoon where anything felt possible — Tom Davies announced himself to the rest of the top flight with a brilliant goal, Ademola Lookman scored with practically his first touch as an Everton player and… well, Everton smashed the much-vaunted Guardiola's team off the park. It doesn't get much better than that.
Sadly, a repeat of that result couldn't look further from being possible, not least because City have improved significantly and are coasting to the league title while the Blues have only just reached the 40-point mark.
Under David Unsworth (the calamity against Atalanta notwithstanding) and Sam Allardyce, Goodison has once again become something of a fortress but they haven't been tested at home by a top-six side since New Year's Day when they were easily dismantled by Manchester United.
Allardyce has used home form to tell anyone who will listen how well he is doing but with the visit of City this weekend and then Liverpool the week after, Everton face two of the best teams in the division in successive games. They will reveal an awful lot about just how strong the current manager has been able to make his side in front of their own fans.
He will, unfortunately, be undermined somewhat by the loss of another key member of his midfield. With James McCarthy's season already over and Gylfi Sigurdsson looking hard-pressed to avoid the same fate, Idrissa Gueye became the latest injury casualty when he reportedly tore a hamstring in training prior to the international break.
Senegal's manager suggested he was facing a three-week lay-off which would see him miss both the City game and the derby and hand an opportunity to either Beni Baningime or, more likely, Morgan Schneiderlin. The 19-year-old was a revelation when called upon by Unsworth at a difficult time earlier in the season but under Allardyce he has suffered a similar fate to many of the other young players — namely, demotion back to the bench and beyond.
At the back, Mason Holgate will be missing after undergoing ankle surgery while Ashley Williams serves the final game of his three-match suspension but the smart money would overwhelmingly be on Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane resuming their partnership in the centre.
City, meanwhile, are in far better fettle and could be in a position to welcome star striker, Sergio Agüero, back from a knee injury. The Argentine didn't figure for his country over the current international break but will be assessed before a final decision is made for this weekend.
Bernard Mendy is ruled out with a knee ligament problem but Fabian Delph will undergo a late fitness test.
Guardiola and his men know that it's just a matter of time before their coronation as Premier League champions is confirmed but that doesn't appear to have diminished their appetite. Not surprisingly, My Top Sportsbooks picks Manchester City as the strong favourites in this clash with Everton with odds as low as 1/3 to win while the Toffees are a tempting 9/1.
Though they were checked at Burnley in a 1-1 draw at the beginning of February, they have travelled to Basel, Arsenal and Stoke and won handsomely and also swept the Gunners aside to win the League Cup. On their day, they have proved to be unplayable but their recent FA Cup defeat at Wigan coupled with the fact that Everton have become something of a bogey team for Guardiola will give Allardyce hope.
Nevertheless, he will need to find a way of nullifying the ever-present threat of David Silva while also shackling Kevin de Bruyne, neither of which will be easy without the tenacious presence of Gueye.
It will be a big ask but with Leicester away at Brighton and Burnley making the trip to West Brom, there's a chance that the Blues could move into eighth place in the table and, perhaps, level on points with the Clarets in seventh if they can get a victory.
Kick-off: 5.30pm, Saturday 31 March, 2018
Referee: Paul Tierney
Last Time: Everton 4 - 0 Manchester City
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Schneiderlin, Rooney, Davies, Bolasie, Walcott, Tosun