The first match up on Sky Sports’ Merseyside vs Manchester card saw a reunion of ex-Barcelona pals Ronald Koeman and Pep Guardiola as their Everton and City sides duked it out at Goodison Park. With Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham tasting victory on Saturday and Manchester United and Liverpool playing each other, the onus was very much on City to get a win at a difficult away ground. Everton, meanwhile, found themselves in no-man’s land between the top six and the rest of the league but undoubtedly relished the opportunity to claim another big team scalp at home.
Guardiola continued with his revolutionary tactic of playing a hologram in goal and assist-machine John Stones in defence. With Gundogan injured and Fernandinho enjoying his latest suspension, Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta would continue to amble around in midfield. Up front, the dangerous trio of Silva, De Bruyne and Aguero prayed that Raheem Sterling would defy all expectation and perform well for a second game in a row.
For Everton, it was a return to a back three that worked so well for them the last they used it against one of the big boys. Young Mason Holgate was tasked with cleaning up any potential gaffs from Williams and Funes Mori, while young Tom Davies was assigned the running that Gareth Barry wouldn’t be able to do. Up front, Lukaku would be looking for good crosses from wing-backs Baines and Coleman, knowing that an accurate through pass from Ross Barkley was unlikely.
Expectedly, Guardiola’s men enjoyed possession of the ball against a deep Everton team looking to counter and isolate Stones against Lukaku. Unexpectedly, City’s possession didn’t yield much in the way of goalmouth action and Joel Robles, like many watching at home, could enjoy a leisurely afternoon of watching Sterling run into dead ends. Everton were content to defend well and pounce on the inevitable mistakes from City’s backline.
And so those mistakes arrived. A poor pass out from Clichy was seized upon by Davies in midfield. City were slow to react as the ball was slipped in behind them to Mirallas, who cut it back for Lukaku to finish first time. Replays showed John Stones curiously detached from the rest of his backline and gesturing at Zabaleta to cover the Everton striker for him. Perhaps he thought if he didn’t do any defending nobody would talk how he’s not very good at it.
City started the second half as they intended to go on: conceding more goals. Everton were quick to snatch the ball back in midfield and force the ball forward to Mirallas. Stones stretched and cut the pass out, but it was picked up again by Barkley who slipped it in behind for Mirallas to smash into the far corner. Questions will be asked how the Belgian ended up in so much space as neither Clichy nor Otamendi saw fit to track him. Perhaps they thought Bravo would bail them out. Stop laughing.
After that, Everton dropped as deep as Guardiola’s hairline to protect their lead. City’s passing continued to be mechanical but not at all functional, as Silva and De Bruyne toiled to pry open the smallest of chinks in Everton’s armour with little help from their teammates. Guardiola introduced Iheanacho to give Everton’s defenders something different about, but didn’t foresee the ball bouncing off him whenever it came his way. They never looked like penetrating Everton’s defence and getting a goal back.
Everton, though, continued to test City’s backline with dangerous transitions. Tom Davies broke away from the defensive ranks to buccaneer up the pitch with the ball. He chopped his way away from two of City’s covering players, then charged at their backline. While City’s defenders were facing an all too familiar chaos, Davies managed a scruffy one-two with Barkley, moved in behind and dinked the ball over Bravo to cap off some wonderful individual play. If only Lukaku didn’t try his best to snatch the moment away from the lad.
It got worse, especially for the returning Stones. His attempt at a clearance ricocheted off an Everton attacker and the ball dropped kindly for Ademola Lookman, on debut, in the City penalty area. The youngster sent the ball through Bravo’s legs to round off a brilliant day for Everton and a disastrous one for Guardiola and City.
Guardiola, sinking deeper and deeper in his comfy dugout chair, must have been entertaining an earlier retirement than planned. His attempts at guiding City to any sort of form are continually thwarted by a lack of a goalkeeper and a defender as expensive as he is error-prone. Elsewhere, he’ll be concerned about his side’s bland passing and blunt offence, not helped by a lack of a midfield. A miracle cure for Gundogan or a hefty chunk of change thrown at the problem might well be on the cards before the January window is closed.