Everton vs Manchester City: A chasm far bigger than anyone could have predicted
When Manchester City were held by Everton at the start of the season, some premature evaluations were made about both teams.
In the late kick-off on Saturday, Everton can become the only team to have played Manchester City more than once this season and avoid defeat. City have beaten every other team in the Premier League – many of them twice – and all the teams they’ve faced in Europe.
Back in August, in only the second game of the season, Everton (still with Ronald Koeman at the helm) went to The Etihad and lead until the 82nd minute. Raheem Sterling’s equaliser was the first of many important, last-gasp, goals from the young forward. Still, Manchester City were held. 1-1.
After two games, the two teams were level on four points. Everton lost five of their next seven fixtures, a run that cost Koeman his job. Manchester City meanwhile, won each of their following 18 Premier League matches.
Looking back at that game, it emphasises quite how much Manchester City have improved, and how much Everton have failed to live up to expectations.
A disappointing campaign for Everton
There were many plaudits for Everton following that draw. A lot of the post-match discourse focused on Wayne Rooney, the goalscorer that day, and the likelihood of an England recall.
In The Telegraph, Jason Burt wrote: “Everton deservedly held firm and Koeman had the satisfaction of having now taken five points – a win and two draws – in three league meetings against Guardiola. That is the first time it has happened to the Spaniard. It is a sign of the progress Everton are making as they go back to the future with Rooney.”
Despite selling their best and most important player, Romelu Lukaku, many argued that those funds (a record Premier League fee) being reinvested demonstrated a step forward for Everton. Last season, Everton made 7th place their own (8 points behind Manchester United in 6th, but a full 15 ahead of Southampton in 8th) and the least anyone expected was a consolidation of that “best of the rest” spot – it was even suggested that they could gatecrash the top six.
Instead, they’re in ninth place, behind a Burnley who recently went on an 11-match winless run, and a Leicester who won just three of their first 13 matches (during which Craig Shakespeare lost his job) – and, again, have won just three of their last 13 matches, now with Claude Puel in charge.
Seventh should have been for the taking this season – and with Arsenal’s disastrous form, their worst ever campaign under Arsene Wenger, there would have been a genuine opportunity for the top six.
Sam Allardyce represents their fall from grace
There have been severe problems at both ends of the pitch – which stand in contrast to that day at The Etihad.
Wayne Rooney, the goalscorer against Manchester City, was judged to be revitalised. He remains Everton’s top scorer but hasn’t scored yet in 2018 – a run stretching back over ten games. January arrival Cenk Tosun still needs time to settle and Sandro Ramirez was sent back to Spain after eight goalless appearances. They have not adequately replaced Lukaku.
At the other end, they have been defensively shambolic – even occasionally under Sam Allardyce. Michael Keane has failed to meet expectations while Ashley Williams no longer looks capable of performing at this level. Only four teams have conceded more Premier League goals this season. That’s in stark contrast to the team that opened the season with a clean sheet and followed it up with a stubborn and resolute defensive display, largely withstanding City’s onslaught.
The appointment of Sam Allardyce encapsulates how far they’ve fallen. Ever reliable, results have been sufficient at Everton and he has done what has been asked of him – steer them clear of an unthinkable relegation. But he’s a coach who is defined by a minimum (avoiding the drop) rather than any kind of ceiling. A club who started the season with genuine ambition is under the stewardship of a coach who represents none.
Manchester City smashing expectations
Given the calibre of their manager and the amount of investment, Manchester City were rightly considered favourites before the start of the season.
But after the draw against Everton question marks were raised. There was a flakiness about Manchester City in Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge. There were a few shocking, damaging defeats, not least the 4-0 thrashing they suffered to Everton, but more often it would be a failure to convert good performances into wins. Profligate finishing and sloppy defensive lapses cost them often.
In this season’s 1-1 draw against Everton, there were, of course, extenuating circumstances and valid excuses. But excuses are ultimately the preserve of losers (you only have to look across Manchester for an example this season).
In hindsight, that second half performance, dominating possession and creating a great volume of chances, with just ten men, was symptomatic of the supremely good team that Guardiola has built this season. But in the context of the preceding season and before they’d shown a relentless winning pedigree, it looked like yet another example of a soft core. Being held at home by Everton wasn’t a good result for prospective Champions.
Kyle Walker’s sending off that day was a little unfortunate – but then it looked like yet more mitigation when dropping points, yet another costly error of judgement. Looking back, having featured almost every minute since it’s an anomalous moment from a player who is reliable and consistent.
Now, with the title all but wrapped up and several records looking set to be broken, there is no mitigation, no excuses, just relentless winning.
Over-committing and defensive lapses, such as the one that lead to Rooney’s goal that day, are rare – Manchester City have conceded fewer than any other Premier League team. Being unable to break open teams is no longer a problem – they’re on course to break the record for goals scored in a season and have only failed to score once.
Sterling’s late equaliser set an early precedent for a steely winning mentality.