Carlo Ancelotti is a very good manager but he isn’t a miracle-worker. The experienced Italian enjoyed a 100% start in his first two matches as Everton manager but he suffered a first defeat in entirely expected fashion at the Etihad Stadium this afternoon.
It was very easy to write this game off — after all, Everton haven’t won here in a decade and increasingly of late the gulf between the two clubs has been yawning — but there are sides who have troubled City at home, particularly Wolves and Manchester United, although both largely did it with speed, of thought, movement and action.
Apart from a few moments following the introduction of Theo Walcott and Moise Kean in the second half, Ancelotti’s men had neither and it really was painful how bad Everton were for the majority of this game.
Fatigue on the back of three matches in the space of six days was unquestionably a factor, as was the loss before kick-off of Bernard, a player who might have offered some ingenuity in getting the Blues through Manchester City’s lines, but Individually and collectively, Everton gave a really poor account of themselves today.
Had Ancelotti not been able to catch up with video of how bad the team was at times under Marco Silva, in those games where almost to a man the players were struggling with the basics, he will at least have had the scale of his task laid bare this afternoon. He will have seen where the squad needs some fairly urgent attention via the transfer market — whether that will come in this month’s transfer window remains to be seen — and which players are patently not good enough to take Everton forward.
Not for the first time time this season, one of the most glaring examples was Gylfi Sigurdsson, who remains a shadow of the player Everton thought they bought in 2017 and who was deservedly hooked in the 66th minute to allow for Kean’s introduction.
He wasn’t alone on a disappointing afternoon where the Blues barely laid a glove on the reigning champions between a terrific early chance created for Seamus Coleman and Richarlison’s goal in the 71st minute that at least hinted at a competitive finale. Tom Davies, the late replacement for Bernard struggled in a left-sided midfield role; Djibril Sidibé, playing in that fluid wingback/right-midfield role was pretty dreadful throughout and was frequently derelict in his defensive duties covering for Coleman; Richarlison looked bereft of ideas and energy; Fabian Delph, frequently looking to go backwards rather than forwards, battled to make any imprint on the contest on his return to a former stomping ground; Lucas Digne offered very little in an attacking sense; and Dominic Calvert-Lewin spent 90 minutes chasing shadows.
In contrast to the no-frills approach adopted by Duncan Ferguson, Everton attempted to run the possession-based passing game they adopted against Burnley and Newcastle but found playing City at their own game a largely fruitless exercise. Ancelotti simply doesn’t have the legs, nous or ability in midfield to work the ball through such an effective press and all too often, the ball would end up back with Jordan Pickford to launch it long.
It made for a very muted and pedestrian opening to the contest, at least until Everton fashioned that very good opening for Coleman with a terrific ball over the top that the Irishman tried to side-foot over Claudio Bravo but was foiled when the goalkeeper palmed his effort over the bar.
What felt like the inevitable opening goal for the home side appeared to come in the 13th minute when the Blues were carved open easily down the right when Davies lost his man and Joao Cancelo crossed for Phil Foden to convert from close range but the Video Assistant Referee check revealed Riyad Mahrez to have been fractionally offside during the build-up.
VAR would also take an extended look at a potential foul by Digne on Mahrez in the Everton box but nothing was given, particularly as the Algerian looked to have handled the ball anyway before Gabriel Jesus rifled over after the ball had been given away to Ilkay Gundogan.
Pep Guardiola’s men were enjoying plenty of space in Everton’s half and Pickford was forced to parry a shot behind after Bernard Mendy had crossed from the left and the Frenchman repeated the feat twice more before half-time, setting up Jesus with a chance that he sliced behind and then picking out Mahrez at the back post but the latter couldn’t bring it down quickly enough before Digne closed him down.
In between, Mahrez had spurned a golden opportunity to open the scoring when Jesus got in behind the visitors’ defence and squared to him but he dragged his shot across goal and wide.
City did take the lead five minutes into the second half. Gundogan played a simple but incisive pass to Jesus who cut back across Mason Holgate and curled an effort around Pickford that the keeper couldn’t keep out of his top corner.
Seven minutes later, it was 2-0. A swift passing move that went from Kevin de Bruyne to Foden to Mahrez and then through a gaping hole in the Everton defence was finished by Jesus who smacked a shot between Pickford and his near post.
Ancelotti’s side at least had a bit more purpose and thrust about them after Walcott and then Kean were introduced and it was the effect of a bit more effective pressing that Everton forced a mistake from Bravo that let them back into the game.
Richarlison got a toe to the keeper’s attempted pass that diverted the ball to Kean, he advanced into the area with tight control and drew a tackle from Rodri but his touch only went to Walcott who drilled it across the box. Richarlison was there at the back post to convert and give his side a bit of belief for the final 20 minutes.
Everton weren’t able to summon any sustained pressure, however, and apart from an ambitious scissor-kick volley by Kean that flew wide, they didn’t really threaten Bravo again. Instead, the better chances fell to City and Pickford had to beat away a Jesus header, save low from another of his shots and then watch helplessly as the Brazilian rapped another effort off the post.
Ancelotti suggested during his pre-match press conference on Tuesday that this game would give him a good insight into where this Everton team currently is vis-a-vis the best sides in the country and while his impressions will have been skewed by the obvious tiredness afflicting many of his charges, he also won’t be under many illusions about where he and Marcel Brands need to strengthen going forward.
The eventual returns to fitness of André Gomes and Jean-Philippe Gbamin will give the manager options in central midfield but there is a desperate need for a ball-player in there capable of dictating matters and linking defence with attack in way that the current incumbents simply aren’t able.
He will also be painfully aware that he needs more creativity in the final third but for now, particularly in view of Sunday’s cup derby at Anfield, he will have to consign this defeat to the history books work with what he has in what promises to be a different kind of game.
Despite the narrow scoreline, Everton were never really good enough to hold a candle to the reigning Premier League Champions as Carlo Ancelotti failed to engineer a win in a disappointing showing at the Etihad Stadium.
More changes from Ancelotti despite a winning performance at Newcastle at the weekend: the Blues boss has made five changes to the side that defeated Newcastle United on Saturday.
The five players that were due to come into the side following the Boxing Day win over Burnley all dropped to the bench and are replaced by those who made way for the game at St James' Park.
That meant Seamus Coleman, Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Fabian Delph and Bernard were all supposed to start this clash at the Etihad and Michael Keane, Leighton Baines, Tom Davies, Theo Walcott and Moise Kean drop to the bench.
However, Bernard was somehow crocked by Mina in the warmup and was replaced in the lineup by Davies.
Jordan Pickford remains in goal, Mason Holgate continues at centre-back, Gylfi Sigurdsson plays in central midfield and Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin play as the two upfront.
Everton started well and could have scored when Colgate tested Bravo. But City controlled the game well after that and looked to have gone ahead on 12 minutes when they sliced through the Everton defence. But it was ruled out by VAR for offside, something of a let-off for the Blues in Black.
Man City put another one over the top and Digne tugged down Marez who had already been flagged for offside but VAR insisted on checking for a penalty... possible handball, No given. Bizzare.
Another City Ball over the top and Everton were opened up again when Jesus lashed over. Coleman did well to dispossess Gundewan. Sidibe's cross was too deep after more good work by Coleman. At the other end, Mendy cut down the left and Marez forced a good save from Pickford.
De Bryunne was clumsily blocked by Mina in midfield earnnng the Columbian a yellow card. Everton started to compete better for the ball in midfield but could still not get anywhere near the Man City area as the home side largely controlled play. Foden was the next to get through and fire from an angle at Pickford.
Jesus got in again and laid back a perfect opportunity for Marez, who fluffed it. Calvert-Lewin got a rare moment on the ball but immediately gave it away sloppily. Everton won a corner kick in stoppage time but Mina headed behind when he should've done better. Everton walked off at half-time somewhat lucky to be level.
5 minutes after the restart, Jesus took a simple ball and curled the ball past Pickford off his fingertips to finally open the scoring. Calvert-Lewin won a corner for Everton that was delivered well enough back to him, but Calvert-Lewin got over it and nothing came of it.
Richarlison got a rare chance to run with the ball but was almost immediately dispossessed with Everton unable to make any headway against a far superior team, Ancelotti seemingly unable to alter the inevitable trajectory of the game, Walcott unlikely to be an effective game-changer.
And another simple move through the middle saw the ball slammed into the net by Jesus for a killer second goal. Richarlison ran at the City defence and softly yielded the ball. Kean replaced Sigurdsson, although it was unclear how much of the ball the young Italian would see.
But it was Keane who chased and harried, and almost had a chance to beat Bravo but backed off the challenge. Bravo then fired a backpass at pace to Fernandinho, who didn't control it. The ball eventually found its way to Dominic Calvert-Lewin on the right side of the area, whose low ball to the far post is fired in by Richarlison.
A good ball in to Kean saw him try an acrobatic finish which did not come off. Foden git through again but Digne took the ball off him very skilfully, no penalty despite the screams from the Citizens. Jesus got in again and almost broke the post in half with a vicious shot that Pickford hardly saw.
Davies earned his now almost automatic yellow card for a typically late challenge. Jesus forced another good save from Pickford as the home side pressed forward strongly to try and wrap up the game.
A rare Everton attack saw Calvert-Lewin bring down a long ball that should have been hammered into the net. But that would have required finishing that is well beyond the youngster's current skillset. Calvert-Lewin dived in on Fernandinho from behind, getting the ball and a yellow card in the process.
Everton survived a couple of corners but could not get the ball forward with enough pace and guile to create anything. They did win a late corner themselves in stoppage time but it was headed away and Ancelotti tasted his first defeat as Everton manager.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Wednesday 1 January 2020Manchester City: Bravo, Joao Cancelo, Garcia, Fernandinho, Mendy, Gundogan, Rodri, Mahrez (90+3' Sterling), De Bruyne, Foden (83' Silva), Gabriel Jesus.
Subs: Walker, Aguero, Jose Angelino, Bernardo Silva, Carson.
Everton: Pickford, Coleman (59' Walcott), Mina [Y:23'], Holgate, Digne, Sidibe, Sigurdsson (66' Kean), Delph [Y:69'], Davies [Y:79'], Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin [Y:86'].
Subs: Stekelenburg, Baines, Keane, Tosun, Gordon.
Everton kick off 2020 at the home of the reigning Premier League Champions with Carlo Ancelotti hoping to engineer the Blues' first win at the Etihad Stadium since 2010.
The Italian has overseen successive victories to start his tenure at Goodison Park but faces two difficult away assignments in the space of four days to start the New Year, with an FA Cup derby at Anfield looming on Sunday.
Ancelotti has welcomed the test against one of Europe's best teams and, as he suggested during his pre-match press conference, it will certainly provide an indication of where this Everton team is now that the ship has been steadied following the chaotic last days of Marco Silva's reign and the players have started to take the new boss's methods on board.
The team should travel with more confidence than they have for a while now given Ancelotti's influence and the fact that City have not been firing on all cylinders this season. Pep Guardiola's men have already lost five times this season, twice at home, and fallen sufficiently far behind Liverpool that the Spaniard has effectively given up on retaining the title for a second season running.
Guardiola is expected to have David Silva and former Everton defender John Stones back from injury while Ederson will be available again following suspension after his red card against Wolves.
Meanwhile, for Everton, the midfield injury crisis continues to ease with the news that Morgan Schneiderlin has recovered from a calf injury and is in contention for a place against City. That gives Ancelotti more options in the middle but in terms of how many changes he makes, much might depend on whether he feels that four days since has been enough rest for those who started at Newcastle on Saturday.
While deploying a fluid two-striker formation has worked for both Duncan Ferguson and Ancelotti, City pose an altogether more challenging proposition than the Blues have faced in recent games and the manager will need to come up with a solution that not only attempts to stifle Guardiola's relentlessly creative midfield and potent forward line while also ensuring that Dominic Calvert-Lewin isn't so isolated up front that he can't cause enough problems.
Manchester United exposed City's vulnerabilities to the counter-attack in their recent derby at the Etihad and Ancelotti could try and emulate the Red Devils' approach and success by using the pace on the break offered by the likes of Theo Walcott and Richarlison.
The hosts will, of course, be favourites but Ancelotti and his staff will be confident that they can get something from the game if they can get the strategy right and the players deliver on the pitch to get the New Year off to a positive start.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Wednesday 1 January 2020
Referee: Andre Marriner
Last Time: Manchester City 3 - 1 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Holgate, Sidibé, Digne, Delph, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin