While there may not have been a consensus on where Evertonians wanted the points to go tonight — bitter local rivalries make for uncomfortable dilemmas sometimes! — there’s no question that every Blue wanted to see some kind of reaction from their team after Saturday’s defeat to Wolves.
The result against title-chasing Manchester City may have been fairly predictable in that Pep Guardiola’s men duly ran out the victors and reclaimed top spot in the Premier League on goal difference from Liverpool but, led by skipper Tom Davies, a much-changed Everton side at least showed some glimmers of fight even if they didn’t find the net.
Indeed, Everton managed just one shot on target all evening and were effectively undone yet more calamitous defending at a set-piece but for a side that has barely been able to string three passes together at times in recent weeks, they produced some of their best football for a while even if there was precious little by way of end product.
The word via the media prior to the game that Marco Silva was going to lean more on his younger players over the remainder of the season added more weight to Farhad Moshiri’s conversation with Jim White on Monday evening attesting that the manager needs time to fashion a team from those youthful elements.
While some consideration was probably given to the fact that come Saturday evening the Blues will have played four games in 11 games, the decision to play soon-to-be-30 Theo Walcott wide on the right while Ademola Lookman was absent from the squad completely aside, that focus on youth was reflected in some of the alterations made to the starting XI. Jonjoe Kenny started at right back in place of Seamus Coleman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin was deployed up front in place of Cenk Tosun and Davies retained his place in the side while Gylfi Sigurdsson was named among the substitutes.
With Richarlison also on the bench, it meant that Everton started without their two top scorers and, given that fact and the caliber of the opposition, it wasn’t surprising that they got to half-time not having tested Ederson in the opposition goal at all.
The Blues were, on the whole, better, more organised and hard-working than they had been against Wolves and their energy and commitment, epitomised by Davies, Idrissa Gueye and Kenny, was in large part why City had also failed to put an effort on target either as the game ticked into first-half stoppage time.
Aymeric Laporte really should have put the visitors ahead with a quarter of an hour gone when Jordan Pickford ended up in no-man’s land trying to defend a corner but the Frenchman put his header wide at the back post and lkay Gündoğan struck the crossbar as David Silva got around the back to cut the ball across from the byline.
Laporte atoned for that miss seconds before the interval, however, after Idrissa Gueye committed a foul in a dangerous area and a stutter-step free-kick from David Silva that wrong-footed Kurt Zouma found the head of the unheeded City defender who guided a header back across goal and past Pickford to make it 1-0.
The yawning gap between Zouma and André Gomes who offered a token jump with his eyes closed rather than making any attempt to attack the ball offered more stark evidence of the lengthy work Silva and his coaching staff must do to eradicate these persistent failures at defending dead-ball situations because they are resulting in goals for the opposition on a weekly basis.
At the other end, Everton had fleetingly threatened to carve out a clear goal-scoring chance but only really came close when Walcott centred and Bernard’s header deflected behind off Kyle Walker
It was Gueye who would force the only save Ederson would have to make all evening with a speculative drive from 25 yards that was well struck but too close to keeper while Lucas Digne drilled a direct free-kick disappointingly into the defensive wall.
Meanwhile, Sergio Agüero went close to doubling City’s lead when Pickford flapped at a high ball in his six-yard box and the Argentine striker was only able to overhead kick it wide and Kenny denied Raheem Sterling a goal off the substitutes’ bench when he deflected the former Liverpool forward’s shot inches over the crossbar.
Silva introduced Sigurdsson in place of Gomes but in moving Davies back into a deeper role, the change blunted what edge Everton had had with the young midfielder enjoying a similarly effective performance as that which he put on at Huddersfield last week.
Richarlison and Tosun would later come on for Bernard and Walcott but apart from one moment where a better pass from the Brazilian would have put the Turk in with an excellent chance to score, the subs didn’t offer much and City were seeing the game out comfortably before they added a second goal, also in injury time at the end of the half.
Kenny’s clearance to the halfway line was sent back into Everton’s half by Nicolas Otamendi where Kevin de Bruyne held off his marker and played Gabriel Jesus into a one-on-one situation with Pickford that the England man appeared to have won when he blocked the Brazilian’s dink shot but Jesus was able to nod the loose ball under the crossbar to seal the points.
Nothing short of a surprise win over the reigning Champions was likely to move the needle on the debate surrounding Marco Silva and his faltering charges but for Blues looking for some evidence that the Portuguese will be able to turn this poor run of form since early December around, there were some sporadic but encouraging signs.
Yes, there is merit in raising the fact that Newcastle, a club enduring far more off-the-field ructions than Everton this season and under genuine threat of relegation, were able to beat City just eight days ago by scoring two goals where the Blues couldn’t muster one but piecing back together the shattered confidence at Goodison Park is going to take time.
It’s going to be almost impossible without fixing the defensive issues, however; Silva can foster more confidence on the ball in midfield, a more settled passing game and a more effective attack but if he isn’t able to eradicate the schoolboy defending at set plays, the pressure on his shoulders will remain.
All that I asked for
It’s been a strange build-up to this game with many wanting Everton to win, many wanting Everton to lose, but most in unison that we were likely to be on the end of quite a hiding. Myself, with the season going nowhere for us, I wasn’t overly concerned with the result from the game, but was with the performance. Our efforts have been so flat these last few months that regardless of the result, Evertonians really needed to see something from their team and it was pleasing to see the players put a shift in for the fans. Likewise it was great to see and hear the supporters rally behind the team.
We arrived at the pub in good time and found that Marco Silva had taken the opportunity to shuffle his pack. Perhaps a combination of Marco dropping some players after our poor showing against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and maybe with an eye on our somewhat more winnable game at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Either way, I was pleased to see Richarlison didn’t make the starting XI after a very poor showing against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Glyfi Sigurdsson, also disappointing against Wolves, also failed to make the team, while Seamus Coleman was replaced by Jonjo eKenny.
We spent a few minutes too long in the pub and only just made kick off, the teams all on the pitch and ready to go as we got to our seats. Goodison Park in fine voice with Evertonians well behind their team. Everton responded from the off, Dominic Calvert-Lewin counter-attacking from the off down the right hand side and putting a ball into the box. It goes to show, that if you give Evertonians something to shout about, they’ll always get behind the team.
Still, while Everton put in a very good effort, Manchester CIty should have been ahead earlier in the half. Aymeric Laporte headed wide with a great chance (yes, a free header from a corner), and Ilkay Gundogan slotted onto the crossbar when well placed inside the penalty area. Bernardo Silva also drove at goal only for his effort to deflect wide off Sergio Aguero. Otherwise, Leroy Sane struck just wide from the edge of the penalty area, and Kurt Zouma had to be alert to block an effort from Gundogan as Manchester City threatened. Everton stood firm though, and dug in well, and even, briefly, looked semi-threatening themselves in the first half, and it was Bernard who came closest to scoring for us when his header at goal deflected off Kyle Walker and drifted just by the post with Ederson scrambling.
Just as we looked as though we were getting to half time, disaster struck - as it always seems to lately, when Everton gave away their customary free kick. Idrissa Gueye flying in unnecessarily on David Silva and giving Manchester CIty an opportunity. Everton were caught out with Manchester CIty’s dummy run from the free kick. It’s a worry how easily this bewildered them, but David Silva’s ball in was met, unchallenged by Laporte, and just on half time Manchester City had an advantage. All that hard work in the first half undone by another defensive set-piece lapse, and it certainly again felt like Groundhog Day as the lads trudged down into the changing room, head-bowed. The stunned Goodison Park faithful applauded them off at the break, a break which saw some lad slip on his backside trying to hit the crossbar.
Everton began the second half on the front foot, and that they very much stayed for large parts of the half, albeit without creating a great deal. Idrissa Gueye let fly very speculatively from distance which Ederson quite comfortably held on to; but otherwise, despite a lot of pressing and effort from the lads, we couldn’t quite fashion the opportunity we craved. Confidence is still an issue for the players. They are trying, but perhaps need to be braver and show more belief when presented with opportunities to create something in front of goal..
While Manchester City won’t have many tougher games on the road throughout the season, they did grit it out and, especially in the last 10 minutes, managed those game very well with Fernandinho immense and doing a very good, if irritating, job of slowing the game down and seeing it out. Seeing Manchester City bring on Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and then Kevin De Bruyne also demoralised a bit, and as it happened the latter two of them substitutes combined with the last action of the game when De Bruyne slipped Jesus through as Everton tried to get forward. The Brazilian was able to score on the second attempt once his effort was well saved by Jordan Pickford.
So a defeat, but one in which you could at least be proud of the team. The players gave it their all and came up against the best team in the league. You can’t ask for more than that, and you really can’t say that much about Everton this season. The crowd acknowledged this also, singing and applauding the players off at full time.
I hope the players get the message now - that we are with them if they show us something. However I will remain sceptical that the players have it in them to put in a similar effort in our next game at Watford on Saturday.
It would be great to be wrong of course, but these new dawns really need to be seen to be believed from Everton..
Pickford: Had one moment which he got away with when he came out to punch and Aguero nearly scored with an overhead volley, but otherwise he was fine and distributed well. 7
Digne: Did fine. 6
Keane: Not bad defensively but his distribution is very poor at times. 6
Zouma: Did fine. 6
Kenny: An excellent effort from Jonjoe, and he must have done his long term prospects no harm at all. It’ll be interesting to see if he keeps his place on Saturday. 7
Gueye: Is certainly missed when he isn’t there and puts in a lot of good tackles. Made a silly, and costly, foul for the goal though. 7
Gomes: Not quite at the races. The game seemed a bit too quick for him. 5
Davies: My man of the match. He was everywhere and lead by example. Well done Tom. 7
Walcott: Had a very good 35 minutes in the second half before being substituted. 6
Bernard: Worked hard but didn’t quite get on the ball enough. 6
Calvert-Lewin: Led the line well, was brave and kept on going. 6
Sigurdsson (for Gomes): Got involved. 6
Richarlison (for Barnard): Did OK. 6
Tosun (for Walcott): Also got involved and worked hard in his time on the pitch. 6
Everton play the third of what will be four games in just 11 days when they face Manchester City at Goodison Park this evening.
Originally scheduled for later this month, the fixture was brought forward to accommodate City's involvement in the Carabao Cup Final against Chelsea and it comes at a time when Pep Guardiola's men have narrowed the gap between themselves and leaders Liverpool to three points.
As such, it means that the reigning Premier League Champions can reclaim top spot with a victory and it puts Blues fans back in the dilemma they faced in May 2014 when City needed to win to retain their place at the summit and ultimately beat the reds to the title.
For Everton that year, while their Champions League hopes were extinguished by results elsewhere prior to kick-off, fifth place was still in the offing but there are no such incentives this time around other than trying once more to get back to winning ways following Saturday's dismal defeat to Wolves.
Everton have lost six of their last nine Premier League games and won just one of their last six at home while also being dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship Millwall, a sequence that has ended any realistic prospect of success this season.
That makes confronting the uncomfortable question of whether one could ever want to see Everton lose a game a little easier — there are those for whom it is unconscionable and those who would be quite happy to give up these three points if it means screwing Liverpool over. In reality, the way Marco Silva's team have been playing, any hand-wringing and fretting about betraying one's Blue blood is likely to be moot. On recent form, just like they were five years ago, City should prove too strong.
It would, however, be very “Everton, that!” if Silva's comparatively more forthright comments in the wake of the 3-1 home defeat to Wolves had the effect of suddenly spurring his charges on to an unlikely victory in this particular match. It would be Everton's first win over a “big six” team since the 4-0 hammering of Guardiola's City just over two years ago and it would ease a lot of pressure on Silva's shoulders.
The Portuguese will be boosted by the return of Lucas Digne who has served his one-match ban following his sending off at Huddersfield last week, giving the manager to the chance to field a natural — not to mention fit — left back in that position after having to play Jonjoe Kenny out of position as a substitute in the last two games.
Leighton Baines is likely to be ruled out after being forced off after 36 minutes at the weekend and he will be joined on the sidelines by injured central defensive duo Phil Jagielka and Yerry Mina. Idrissa Gueye is fit again after missing two games with a minor groin problem and he is expected to come straight back into central midfield.
In terms of the rest of the side, much depends on Silva's reading of which players badly let the side down on Saturday as to what other changes he makes. Cenk Tosun arguably earned another start against Wolves but it wouldn't be surprising to see the ineffective Theo Walcott replaced, perhaps by Bernard.
The manager named Gylfi Sigurdsson as one of his two reliable goal scorers so while the Icelandic midfielder has been disappointing of late, he remains a key source of goals. As such, perhaps only the need to rotate given the current glut of fixtures would see Sigurdsson taken out the team despite calls from some fans for Silva to try something different in attacking midfield.
Kick-off: 7:45pm, Wednesday 6 February, 2019
Referee: Craig Pawson
Last Time: Everton 1 - 3 Manchester City
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Kenny, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Richarlison, Tosun