Sunday morning brought with it a sense positivity that had teetered on the brink of extinction in the hearts and minds of Everton’s fans over the past few months.
Evertonian’s arrived in their droves, suitably nourished by the chance to revel in an 8 day lag following a much needed 3-0 demolition of Southampton on the south coast last Saturday morning. Their team unbeaten and the signing of a much-coveted Ukrainian international in the offing, it was a good day to be blue.
Unfortunately, any air of confidence that flowed through the veins of hopeful fans soon dissipated in two fell swoops of reality. Firstly – and I have to say comically – discovering that talk of a rather more expensive privately hired aircraft sitting at Kiev airport with the engine running was wide of the mark. Secondly – and all the more ominously – that Manchester City were unchanged having swept aside reigning champions Chelsea with consummate ease a week earlier.
This a team that have clicked, a team that have identified the areas in need of improvement both with incoming and long serving players, both physically and mentally, a team that look hungry and will take all the beating.
And so it proved on a day when Everton’s application and the individual talents of their special players could not be doubted, but their ability to mix it with the very best in their current state most certainly could.
After confident enough opening couple of minutes, Everton were opened up when a loose pass from Lukaku, eventually found its way to Jesus Navas, whose cut back found David Silva in space. The Spaniard’s shot was blocked, only to ricochet kindly to Sergio Aguero – correctly adjudged onside – whose instinctive snap shot was stabbed away by the outstretched leg of Tim Howard.
It was a warning for Everton, but not the type that is easily avoided in the future. This is most balanced and effective Manchester City side to my memory, one that early on this season has shown signs of finding a way to maximise the effectiveness of all of it’s forward thinking players.
When that is the case, shape and discipline is key to any team that hopes to withstand the pressure when they find themselves in their current state of mind. The problem facing Everton was clear, Arouna Kone and Brendan Galloway on the left side, square pegs in round holes that were always likely to struggle against a team of City’s attacking prowess.
After 10 minutes, the lack of the shield provided so ably by Tom Cleverley for 45 minutes against Southampton exposed Galloway, who unsupported by Kone was shredded by a smart combination between the delightful Silva and Navas for the latter to pull back to Aguero who shot directly at Howard when he should have done better.
You felt for Galloway, who left to his own devices on many occasions was given a severe examination, that saw him breathing heavily and ultimately replaced by Tyias Browning when injuring his knee in a clash with Bacary Sagna.
The real beauty of the new Manchester City is the space afforded to David Silva in a side that boasts the pace and ability of Raheem Sterling and Navas. The game really opens up for the little magician and Everton had no answer for him as he combined superbly with Aguero on the edge of the box, to fire a left footed shot into the midriff of Howard on 13 minutes.
He was at it again when the under pressure Kone lost out to Navas on the edge of his own box, Silva latched onto the loose ball, gliding into the area, shifting the ball onto his left side, as if the game was in slow motion, before whipping the ball across the face of goal centimetres out of the reach of Sterling.
The ball wouldn’t stick up front for Everton who – forced on the back foot for large periods of the first 25 minutes – struggled to sufficiently support Romelu Lukaku, who was isolated. However, this wasn’t a poor Everton showing by any means, the work rate and desire was excellent and they began to settle when the superb Seamus Coleman burst down the right hand side and found the game open up just enough for him to drive a left footed shot past the near post from 20 yards.
Everton started to grow into the game, with the once more impressive Barkley showing his increased confidence and endless potential, dropping the shoulder and flying past Yaya Toure, only to be brought down on the edge of the area by Mangala.
The resulting free kick was dispatched into the Park End wildly by the young England international.
The home side soon broke again, when 3 minutes into injury time, Cleverley burst through the middle of midfield, chopped down by Fernandinho just short of the area.
This time it was Lukaku who strode up to the free kick and the big Belgian struck it well, leaving Joe Hart rooted as it clipped the bar and sent the teams in 0-0 at half time.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first, with Silva at the centre of all things positive for Manchester City, this time slid in brilliantly by Sterling, only to see his shot fly past Howard and smash back off the post.
However, Everton began to take a foothold in the game, if not in an attacking sense, certainly in an organisational sense as their opponents success became more infrequent. Ably anchored by the much-maligned Gareth Barry whose application and willingness to take the ball in any area against such a talented midfield was impressive.
Everton’s parity was to be short lived and it was Alexander Kolarov who broke the deadlock on 60 minutes, when released by Raheem Sterling to fire in from an acute angle. The goal made painful viewing for the Everton number one, who appeared to gamble on a cut back that never arrived.
City led deservedly and should have been out of sight 3 minutes later, when Browning seemed collide with Stones, taking both out the game and release Navas, who fired into the face of the sprawling goalkeeper.
Everton struggled to make in roads from here on in, the disparity made all the more apparent when the industrious Steven Naismith replaced Arouna Kone, only for City to replace Sterling with Samir Nasri with 15 minutes remaining.
And it was the Frenchman who clinched the game for the visitors on 88 minutes.
The goal itself was delicious when it arrived via a wonderful one two with Toure who clipped the ball perfectly into the path of Nasri who took advantage of some lax James McCarthy marking and some passive Howard goalkeeping to find the net with a deft chip from 8 yards out.
2-0 was a fair reflection on a game where individually Everton impressed, with Stones, Coleman and Barkley all furthering their burgeoning reputations with good performances, Coleman being the pick of the bunch for me. Excellent in his battle with Sterling and always carrying a threat in the final third a brilliant full back performance under the most difficult circumstances.
There is however, room for improvement, James McCarthy won’t be happy with himself, these are the games in which he can and should be affecting for Everton. Also, the shape is something that could be addressed against the big sides, donating the right hand side to a combination like Navas, Silva and Sagna is a concern.
But, take nothing away from Manchester City, this is a team that will hurt you all over the place and in their current form, there is room to approach the game in a positive manner. You have to score to beat this team and based on their first 3 games, not many teams will be doing that this season.