Those concerned by the implications an Everton win over Manchester City would have on Liverpool’s newly-buoyed title aspirations needn’t have worried. The Toffees reverted to type on the turf of a top-six side, at least in terms of the result, with a defeat by two goals… albeit one that, depending on your point of view, might have masked some decent moments that could, on another day, have yielded a point for Marco Silva’s men.
Richarlison had good opportunities, one in each half, and Theo Walcott put another decent chance over the bar after he had come on as a second-half substitute, misses that Silva would rue in his post-match press conference. City would in all likelihood have had too much for them in the end but with better finishing Everton could have made much more of a contest of this one.
Pep Guardiola’s team can be frighteningly good and they exhibited those strengths in flashes but you didn't get the impression they ever needed to hit top gear. It says something about their depth that despite David Silva out of action, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling only starting on the bench and Sergio Aguero not even making it onto the pitch, Everton still never really looked like they could beat them.
And yet, with more composure in the opposition box and tighter defending in their own, the Blues could have made this very uncomfortable for City. That they didn’t ensures that this poor record on the grounds of the “big six” continues with just a trip to Tottenham later in the season left in which to improve upon it.
With an injury problem of his own with which to contend, Silva made his first real change in formation with the deployment of three centre-halves for the first time this season in a vain attempt to keep Guardiola’s fearsome attack at bay. Sadly, none of Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane nor Yerry Mina covered themselves in glory — the Frenchman was arguably the pick of the three while Mina’s display evoked some concerns — the defensive setup didn't really work, and Everton were ultimately beaten by headed goals from two of the smallest players in City’s team.
And that was after Mina had ruined the Blues’ solid start to the game with a double error in the 22nd minute that gift-wrapped an early Christmas present for Gabriel Jesus.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin had forced the first save of the game from Ederson in the first few minutes, the keeper turning the young Englishman’s shot around his post before play was pulled back for a very tight offside call. And Richarlison had spurned what would be Everton’s best chance of the game when Lucas Digne picked up the ball following Kyle Walker’s error and picked the forward out with a cross from the byline but the Brazilian couldn’t keep his volley down and sent it crashing over the bar.
At the other end, Fernandinho’s over-hit, long-range effort and a close call with an own goal for Keane that was rescued by the fingertips of Jordan Pickford aside, City hadn’t threatened Everton’s goal for the first quarter of the contest. That changed, however, when Mina pulled wide to near the touchline to receive a pass from Pickford and simply dumped an aimless ball into the middle of the park, straight to Ilkay Gundogan.
A team with City’s ability to pivot into attack mode in the blink of an eye doesn’t usually pass such opportunities up and with one quick pass to Leroy Sané and another to Jesus who was being played onside by Mina, City had the lead when the Brazilian striker slotted confidently passed Pickford to make it 1-0.
This was in many ways a study of two sides committed to the high press and given to quick passing in transition and playing it out from the back but where one has mastered it and the other still has a long way to go under their new manager.
Nevertheless, a neat interchange between Seamus Coleman and Richarlison whereby the latter’s reverse pass put the fullback into space behind the home defence down the right flank where he forced Ederson into parrying away his cross offered hope that Everton could cause problems of their own.
But it was City who closed the half stronger, Pickford called into the action to beat Riyad Mahrez’s shot away to safety after Bernard was beaten to a loose ball in midfield by Fernandinho and Gundogan’s cross bounced off Zouma into the Algerian winger’s path.
The second half featured few clear-cut openings but City had effectively killed the game within five minutes of the restart after half-time. Playing their customary possession game, the hosts dragged the ball from the right flank, back through the centre circle and then back out to Walker before his attempted cross was cleared only as far as Sané over on the left.
The German international had plenty of time and space to dink a cross onto the head of Jesus who stolen between Keane and Mina in the middle and he powered the ball past the hapless Pickford for his second goal of the afternoon.
Everton were back in with a shout a quarter of an hour later, though, with a similar goal, albeit finished less emphatically by Calvert-Lewin. Digne initiated a quick break from his own byline, one that went swiftly through the ever-impressive André Gomes, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Ademola Lookman, on as a substitute for Bernard, before the ball was cleared back to Digne by a City defender. He whipped in a cross, Calvert-Lewin made contact and Fabian Delph’s cranium helped it on its way past Ederson to make it 2-1 with 25 minutes to play.
Any hope that Everton could push on and try and grab a point were largely extinguished by Sterling who scored less than three minutes after coming on himself. Once again, it was all a little too easy as City sped through an open midfield, Zouma was slow to close Fernandinho down as he drove to the byline and he lofted the ball over Mina where Sterling was completely unmarked to head home.
Still, the Blues had their chances to make a game of it. Once more Lookman, who had another impressive cameo performance, was involved as he sprinted forward on the counter, held the ball up intelligently before laying it square to Richarlison but the Brazilian again failed to get any control on a first-time effort and missed the target by some distance.
Then, Lookman’s cross fell invitingly to Walcott about six yards out but he stubbed it into the ground and over the bar before Calvert-Lewin’s tried to cheekily heel-flick a cross past Ederson but the keeper was equal to it.
With just one win in the last six and another defeat away at a top-six team, it’s tempting, as some have done, to write the progress made thus far by Marco Silva off as either no improvement or even a regression from the days of Ronald Koeman Sam Allardyce. After all, Blues managed a 1-1 draw in this fixture last season (albeit against 10 men for much of the game) and registered wins over the likes of Huddersfield and Newcastle where the Portuguese has failed.
To carry over thoughts published on that thread to here, however, it is surely preferable to be at the stage where we are now with the likes of Digne, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Pickford, Zouma (if we can sign him), and Gomes (if we can sign him) et al, together with the potential that exists in Bernard and Lookman and knowing that Marcel Brands has only just got started, while still evolving a style than being in a similar position with a dead-end manager like Allardyce in charge.
We still have plenty of room to develop and grow within the framework of what Silva is putting in place and, frankly, it’s more encouraging going to City, having a go and coming out annoyed that we didn't put a clear-cut chance away than travel to these top-six grounds and barely muster an attack in 90 minutes.
Write this season off (the FA Cup aside) as a season of transition and growth. We're not finishing in the top six this year but we're putting the foundations in place for being able to challenge next year. Until then... patience.
Everton got nothing from what is arguably their most challenging assignment of the season as their current run of poor results continues.
Everton made two changes from the draw with Watford last weekend. Kurt Zouma and Dominic Calvert-Lewin replace Idrissa Gueye and Theo Walcott, with Marco Silva switching to a back three.
Manchester City make four changes from Wednesday night in the Champions League. Riyad Mahrez, Fernandinho, Fabian Delph and Kyle Walker replace Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Alexander Zinchenko and John Stones, who all drop to the bench. Sitting in the dugout alongside them: Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne, back from a long injury layoff.
Gomes played a risky pass across the front of his box. Jesus nearly latched onto it, but Keane rescued the situation.
Everton force the first save. Sigurdsson powered past Fernandinho and slipped a ball down the inside-left channel for Calvert-Lewin, who turned and fired a shot towards the bottom right corner. It was going in, but Ederson fingertipped round the post. The flag goes up for offside, incorrectly, so Everton are robbed of the corner.
Calvert-Lewin nearly created some space with a dribble down the right touchline, but not quite. Sane romped back up the other end and cut into the Everton box from the left, but was well marshalled by Mina.
Everton are attacking with some verve. Digne whipped in a cross from the left; Coleman had a go from the right. City zoom up the other end, but Fernandinho passes the ball out of play. As City came forward, Jesus turned Keane but Zouma was across quickly to block his shot. That looked dangerous.
A lovely cross in from Digne was worth a goal from Richarlison in acres of space if he had headed it goalward but the Brazillian decided to welly it over the bar. Bernard made a good down the left, but his attempt to find Calvert-Lewin at the far post was overhit.
Digne had to foul Mahrez wide left of Everton's area,, giving away a dangerous free-kick, Jesus fired in the free-kick goalward, but his effort is blocked. It breaks to Delph, who pearls a screamer inches over the bar from distance. Gundogan got close but Pickford saved.
But it was only a matter of time: from a stupid short goal-kick, Mina's poor clearance was intercepted by Fernandinho and laid off to Sane, who slid a pass down the inside-left for Jesus. The striker takes a stride into the box, and lashes the ball in past Pickford, who had no chance. Three at the back exposed; Everton game plan in tatters.
Everton had played really well, failed to take a fantastic chance, and given up a really stupid goal and Everton now look a sad reflection of the early form. Vive la difference... City now in complete control while Everton keep giving the ball away in their own half.
Another crazy moment as Gundogan lofted a cross into the box, Keane sent it straight at goal and Pickford had to push the ball around his post with his fingertips.
Finally, a better response from Digne's free kick, a throw-in on the right. Richarlison and Coleman combine well, sending the full-back scampering clear. He fired into the centre for Calvert-Lewin, but Ederson read the danger and punched clear.
Everton resort to launching it long from the back, trying to make something for Calvert-Lewin to chase or flick on, but it's not really working. At the other end, Mahrez got into a great position on the penalty spot but hit it too close to Pickford. They did score in the next attack but it was flagged offside, the back three doing their job this time.
Mahrez pounced on a loose ball from Mina in the box and slammed a half-volley at goal, but Pickford saved it solidly. A typical half from Everton, starting brilliantly, squandering a fantastic chance, giving up a poor goal, and then strggling not to be overrun.
No changes from Marco Silva at half-time, leaving the dreadful Mina in place in the back three, the midfield over-run, and Calvert-Lewin chasing bouncing balls up front.
Sane clipped in a cross, Jesus beat Mina easily to head the ball easily past Pickford. 2-0. Game over.
With the little speedy players showing the way, it's a double change by Marco Silva before the hour: Bernard and Coleman are replaced by Walcott and Lookman.
But incredibly a goal out of nowhere, Calvert-Lewin forced the ball in past Ederson, probably off Delph, from a lovely cross in by Digne. 2-1.
But Sterling came on and soon made it 3-1, with another header, despite the three monster centre-backs in Everton's defence. Everton should have responded straight away after Lookman danced down the inside-left channel, then rolled a pass across the face of the box for Richarlison. He should at least hit the target, but sidefoots rashky well over the bar. So wasteful.
Lookman agin worked his magic, bursting down the left, reaching the byline, he put it on a plate for Walcott, who somehow shoots over the bar from all of 6 yards!
Delped lunged in on Calvert-Lewin with a really poor challenge worthy of a red but of course the Everton player booked (for afters) with the City player getting away with a yellow card also.
Third change of captain in game when Tom Davies came o for the tenaciously inconsequential Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Walcott zipped down the right, getting the better of Delph. He crossed low. Calvert-Lewin, on the right edge of the six-yard box, executes a dainty back-flick towards the bottom left. It's on target, and would be a delightful finish, but there's no pace on the ball and Ederson claims the ball. Everton have had their chances.
Lookman took the ball off Gundogan and sent Richarlison running in on goal. Richarlison looked to curl one into the top right but his effort was deflected out for a corner.
Everton were so much more lively since Lookman came on but at that point, the game was lost.
Scorers: Jesus (22', 50'), Sterling (69'); Calvert-Lewin (65')
Manchester CityEderson, Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Delph [Y:77'], Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, Gündogan, Mahrez (75' De Bruyne), Gabriel Jesus, Sane (66' Sterling).
Subs not Used: Stones, Aguero, Zinchenko, Foden, Muric.
Everton: Pickford, Coleman (57' Walcott), Mina, Keane, Zouma, Digne [Y:19'], Calvert-Lewin [Y:77'], Gomes, Sigurdsson (81' Davies), Bernard (57' Lookman), Richarlison.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Baines, Tosun, Schneiderlin.
Everton face what is arguably their most challenging assignment of the season as they go to the Etihad Stadium in search of a first win in four games.
A painful last-gasp defeat in the Merseyside derby was followed by disappointing home draws with Newcastle and Watford, seven lost points that have left the Toffees in seventh place and 10 points adrift of fifth place Arsenal.
Given the strength of Pep Guardiola's team and Everton's record on the grounds of the top six — they haven't beaten any of those teams on their turf in five years — a trip to defending Premier League champions, Manchester City, is the last place Marco Silva would want to go needing to get back to winning ways.
City are on a nine-game winning streak at home and while they suffered defeat for the first time this season at Chelsea, they haven't lost back-to-back matches in the League in two years. They've also not lost to a team outside of the “big six” in 51 games… since Everton hammered them 4-0 in January last year.
So, while Guardiola has a 100% record in his meetings with Silva, the Blues are unbeaten on their last three visits to this part of Manchester and last season Ronald Koeman oversaw a battling defensive display and a 1-1 draw before being unceremoniously dismissed following one drubbing too many two months later.
It's that propensity for Everton to be an occasional bogey team for City, their away performances under Silva this season and a couple of key injury concerns for the hosts that will see them travel for this lunchtime kick-off with a degree of hope rather than outright dread.
City will be without two of their midfield inspirations in the form of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne while Fernandinho, Danilo, John Stones and Sergio Aguero are all doubts. Full-back Benjamin Mendy is also ruled out. They always have more than enough talent in reserve, however, and if Aguero doesn't make it, Gabriel Jesus is expected to lead the line, ably assisted by Raheem Stirling who is in devastating goalscoring form this season.
Silva, meanwhile, might have to make a change in central midfield for the first time in weeks as Idrissa Gueye is a doubt with the apparent groin strain that forced off against Watford. As the more combative of he and Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Davies would be the more likely replacement but it remains to be seen whether the manager will make any other alterations to a line-up that struggled to cope with the Hornets for long periods on Monday.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin's energy and physical presence were key elements in last year's draw in this fixture and he could be an experimental option for Silva if he does decide to make another change up front, while Bernard's prior success at the Etihad with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League against an opposition given more to flair than sheer brawn might see him retain his place in the team.
At the end of the day, Everton are essentially on a hiding to nothing in this one and can hopefully just go out with few expectations on their shoulders and try and spring a surprise. Coping with City's liquid passing, the pace of the likes of Leroy Sané and their ability to score goals from all over their team will be of prime concern but it's also the kind of game that can draw the best out of Silva's own stars. Here's hoping…
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 15 December, 2018
Referee: Craig Pawson
Last Time: Manchester City 1 - 1 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Digne, Davies, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison