An Ignominious End to a Failed Campaign

This was less Black Watch and more the death watch as the last breaths were extinguished from European-qualification hopes that had been on life support for a few weeks and effectively died a week ago with that horrible defeat to Sheffield United

Lyndon Lloyd 23/05/2021 5comments  |  Jump to last
Man City 5 - 0 Everton

In what Blues fans hope wasn’t a portent of what is to come next season, Everton debuted their 2021-22 away kit at the Etihad Stadium today but it was less The Black Watch and more the death watch as the last breaths were extinguished from European-qualification hopes that had been on life support for a few weeks and effectively died a week ago with that horrible defeat to Sheffield United.

Manchester City, true to their exacting manager’s footballing philosophy, were merciless. Pep Guardiola eschewed any notion that his mind and those of his players was on Saturday’s Champions League Final against Chelsea. He named an almost full-strength line-up, watched them tear the Blues apart and still had plenty of time to bring on the departing Sergio Agüero for his triumphant swan song. Just as they were for Arsenal’s title party in 1998 and Leicester’s in 2016, Everton were obliging guests who laid down the welcome mat and got trampled amid the revelry.

It was sobering, pretty humiliating and, perhaps most alarmingly, not all that surprising; the final ignominious chapter in a season that promised so much but ended on perhaps as flat a note as it could for a team that sat in second place in the Premier League on Boxing Day.

So much seemed possible heading into the New Year, not least because Carlo Ancelotti was fashioning his side into one of the most effective away from home. Increasingly, the formula was a simple one centred around discipline, hard work and the deployment of the low block, in the expectation that the Toffees could pinch a goal on the break or from a set-piece and then dig in for the points.

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Aided by the lack of home supporters, it worked an impressive number of times which is why it was curious that the Italian chose a game away at the newly-crowned Champions who had fans in the stands for the first time since February last year, to abandon the tactics that had served him so well to this point.

By his own admission Everton tried to play further up the pitch and take the game to City and while it was laudable in the context of his pressing need to win today to have any chance of making the Europa Conference League — Lord knows, if he’s tried that a bit more at home this year, Europe might have been a certainty — in retrospect it was puzzlingly naïve. After all, his team had contained the same opposition for 80-odd minutes in the FA Cup just a few weeks ago but on this occasion any platform Everton might have wanted to step things up in the second half to try and win was swept away within a quarter of an hour’s play.

The visitors did have some bright moments in the early exchanges and Dominic Calvert-Lewin forced the first save of the game from Ederson when he was put in the clear by Gylfi Sigurdsson but his shot from the angle was foiled by the Brazilian.

Jordan Pickford made a similar stop at the other end to deny Gabriel Jesus but the floodgates opened in the 11th minute when Kevin De Bruyne's run into an ocean of space in front of Everton's defence went untracked and he had the time to pick his spot with a typically excellent finish inside the far post.

Three minutes later, Michael Keane (who was pretty dreadful on the day) was caught trying to dribble through a clutch of City players near the halfway line and the hosts pounced, with De Bruyne picking out Jesus who easily turned Mason Holgate (who was even worse than Keane) and fired home to make it 2-0.

A potential route back into the game for the Toffees arrived 10 minutes before the break, though, in a moment of controversy where Everton felt that Ruben Dias should have been sent off for denying Richarlison a goalscoring opportunity.

The Brazilian raced onto a through-ball and was caught by the Portuguese defender's slide-tackle and then clattered by Ederson, with referee Michael Oliver electing to only yellow-card Dias.

Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up to take the penalty but placed his shot at the idea height for the goalkeeper and Ederson pushed it away while Richarlison's shot from the rebound was charged down by a recovering defender.

Another claim for a spot-kick, this time for a possible foul on Calvert-Lewin, was waved away before Riyad Mahrez rattled Pickford's crossbar from 25 yards out as City finished the first half on top.

Sigurdsson's wayward shot from distance a few minutes into the second half largely summed up Everton's diminishing attacking impetus and Phil Foden made it 3-0 eight minutes after half-time with another impressive finish. Abdoulaye Doucouré's loose pass was cut out on in the centre-circle and City attacked quickly with Jesus finding Raheem Sterling who then passed for Foden to sidestep Holgate in the box and tuck home his shot.

Ancelotti sent on Alex Iwobi for Doucouré and then Bernard for Sigurdsson but neither player made much impact. Instead it became the Agüero send-off party as Tom Davies became the latest player to be dispossessed cheaply in his own half and Agüero navigated his way around Holgate before guiding the ball into the far corner with the outside of his boot with 20 minutes left.

Six minutes after that, Everton's misery was complete. Fernandinho crossed from the right for Agüero who had positioned himself inside the 10 yards of space between Godfrey and Keane and the Argentine steered a header beyond Pickford's reach to make it five.

Pickford denied the striker a hat-trick with strong hands to push away his fierce shot from the angle and then turned aside a header from a corner before saving well once more from Sterling in stoppage time.

In the final reckoning, even had Everton managed to pull off the improbable against a City side that exists in another universe to ours, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Displaying a good deal more spirit and enterprise than has been in evidence from the Toffees in recent weeks, Tottenham Hotspur came back from 2-1 down to beat Champions League hopefuls Leicester 4-2 at the King Power stadium, thereby securing a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League.

For Everton, the wait to play Continental football again must wait at least another year but of more immediate concern is the way what was, as recently as March, a hugely promising season has unravelled so dramatically with Ancelotti seemingly powerless to do anything about it.

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Reader Comments (5)

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Mal van Schaick
1 Posted 25/05/2021 at 07:47:12
Our season was like a damp firework, it had highs and lows but eventually fizzled out.

There can be no arguments regarding the owners commitment, but he must know after a few years of investment that past player recruitment has not produced his required results, hence managers have come and gone.

Ancelotti must be given time, as he says himself. “ I am not a magician “, he must also now assess the squad and approach the owner in stark reality and inform him that another rebuild is required.

If Ancelotti stamps his identity on the squad with better quality players especially in midfield, then he must be given time to prove that the ignominious end to last season will not be repeated next season.

Barry Rathbone
2 Posted 25/05/2021 at 07:49:34
The problem with being a defensive unit hoping to pick off a win by the odd goal is you have to be really good at it and we're not. It's just like the days of Moyes we win a few unexpected games but overall it just gives is mid table security. If Carlo's comments are to be believed he thinks we're on the right track so to avoid high blood pressure next term resign yourself to expecting the same while he's here.

What a dull club.

Gareth Williams
3 Posted 25/05/2021 at 09:28:18
Another poor performance.

Carlo has been there 18 months and I don't think we have improved. I do wonder if he is the man for the job... I think his best days are behind him.

Chas Mansour
4 Posted 25/05/2021 at 11:33:50
Great article and responses.

My 2p worth: What the fuck is going on at Finch Farm? Too many players seem to go backwards skill-wise once they join Everton. Do these guys have to wait to be introduced to each other in training? They don't actually seem to like each other.

How about an away day just focusing on tackling?

This does not seem to be a recent phenomenon. Not an elephant in the room... more like a herd of the buggers!

Root-and-Branch reform of the EFC culture and practices badly needed.

Rant over!

Andrew Ellams
5 Posted 25/05/2021 at 11:39:31
Why does a supposed world class manager think a team that can't pass from A to B and has zero pace can play a defensive style that is totally dependent on the ability to counter attack?

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