20:00 KO (BST); Monday 21st August; Etihad Stadium (Manchester, England)
Much is expected of City this season, thanks largely to their chequebook, willingness to buy the league, and one of the game’s highest regarded managers. City took a stroll around Brighton last weekend to open their Premiership win account but it will be a much sterner test facing them for their first home game. Having won their opening six games last season and still walking away empty-handed, Pep Guardiola might be more aware of the challenge posed by the Premier League now.
Their immediate challenge is a team who they could not defeat last season, a team who have significantly improved their dressing room with a spending spree that has caught a £45m Icelandic star in their transfer net just prior to this fixture.
Ronald Koeman has been backed to deliver by the Everton board and now is the time for his team to deliver. With their sights set on a top-four finish, a big result in Manchester is just the type of statement of intent he will want, to show his side are making genuine progress.
LAST TIME OUT
Brighton 0 – 2 MANCHESTER CITY (Premier League)
It was a performance best described as fluid and polished rather than exciting for Guardiola’s side. It was, however, worthy of the result which provides the same net reward. The fact that City had to wait until the 70th minute before finding the net against a spirited Brighton display owed as much to Brighton’s work-rate as any other factor, with the Citizens controlling the majority of the game as much as their 78% possession statistic suggests.
Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne both had strong claims for the man-of-the-match award but close behind them was David Silva. The evergreen midfielder caused City’s breakthrough in the Premiership.
Creating five of his teams nine chances and with a passing accuracy just over 93%, he continues to prove his attacking potency despite taking up a deeper position on the field. He might be sporting a new haircut, but Silva seems as impressive as ever which is surely great news for Guardiola and City fans alike.
EVERTON 2 – 0 Hajduk Split (Europa League Qualifying Playoff)
It was a solid performance which provides a good lead going into the second leg, however, Koeman’s comments after the match spoke of disappointment with a sense that a drop of tempo led to the missed opportunity of pushing the contest out-of-sight.
There were many positives he could comfort himself with though, a number of impressive individual performances across the pitch being perhaps the strongest.
After Sigurðsson had been paraded to the crowd prior to kick-off, it seemed fitting that the player in his role on the field was the one to stand out. Davy Klaassen’s performance was as much a product of effort and hard-work as it was skill.
Influential across the whole of the pitch and involved in the build-up to both Everton goals, Klaassen gave a masterclass in the type of football Koeman demands of his players. Whether he can play in the same team as Sigurðsson remains to be seen but on this evidence, Koeman has a selection dilemma of the best possible kind.
Manchester City Lineup
Both Benjamin Mendy (thigh) and Ilkay Gündogan (knee) have resumed training, that latter of which playing 20 minutes of City’s midweek friendly against Girona. Guardiola could opt to start with the same eleven he deployed against Brighton, however, with a wealth of talent such as Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané, Yaya Touré and Bernardo Silva at his disposal, some small tweaks could be made for the clash with Everton.
Ramiro Funes Mori (knee) Seamus Coleman (leg) and Yannick Bolasie (knee) are all long-term absentees with no known return date for the Toffees while James McCarthy (knee) and Ross Barkley (groin) are also expected to miss selection for this game.
Koeman will have Gylfi Sigurðsson available and the new £45m signing is expected to make his debut in place of Davy Klaassen, one of the players likely to be rested after the toffees midweek European encounter.
Key Battle: Sergio Agüero vs Michael Keane
Whether he’s in form or not, Agüero is a player who delivers for City when they need it most. After forcing his way back into Guardiola’s thoughts after being left out of the team in favour of Gabriel Jesus last February, the two strikers are now forming a partnership which could herald a new dawn for City.
With a goal already this season and a Premiership scoring record of 0.67 goals per game, similar to that which he achieved last season, Agüero’s goals are often more important than a statistic can describe.
Looking to stop the Argentine in his tracks this weekend is Everton’s £30m new boy, Michael Keane. Having scored in his last outing and contributed towards keeping clean sheets in all competitive games this season including the three European qualifiers, Keane is already looking comfortable in his new home.
Having played for Koeman in a back three and a standard back four already, the young Englishman has great versatility and looks likely to be a rock around which much of Everton’s future is built upon.
Like his new manager much more was expected from John Stones after a high-profile switch to Manchester City last summer. After a first season which bore very mixed fortunes for the £47.5m defender, Stones will be expected to deliver a much more commanding presence for the Citizens this season.
With reports circling that City has an interest in signing Jonny Evans from West Brom, Stones will know that his position in the team is not to be taken for granted. Having Vincent Kompany alongside him in the heart of City’s defence will also greatly help to add stability whilst providing an example of how to organise his team during a game.
With a year already passed, the word potential begins to lose its impact, and like his manager now is the time to show that he can deliver on the promises that came with his arrival.
We’re on a (bank) roll
Nobody was expecting quite the scale of this summers transfer market, yet Ronald Koeman gambled by going big at the beginning of the window and it’s a tactic which has seemingly paid off.
While everyone was expecting the two Manchester clubs to plough millions into strengthening their squads, many were left wondering how Everton would fare with the imminent departure of Romelu Lukaku and possibly Ross Barkley too.
Having now swapped over £130m for the spine of a top team, Everton appear to be one of the few clubs that can be happy with their summer dealings. Whether money can truly lead to happiness is still a debatable issue, something City can readily testify following last season’s fruitless search for silver. It doesn’t appear to have dissuaded City from trying again, having just dropped another £220m on new faces with rumours of more to follow.
With so many clubs now investing heavily on the chance to improve their standing, money is becoming less of a determinate factor, but still a factor which creates more headlines than any other.
An ice-cold £45m
It can’t be ignored that Ronald Koeman has a new star in town. Gylfi Sigurðsson is expected to make his debut at the Etihad following his switch from Swansea, a team he’s often credited with keeping safe last season. While it has taken over a month to finalise the deal, the player who covered more distance across the Premiership pitches than anyone else last season can belatedly begin this season.
Without a game since the Swans 12th July friendly against Barnet, Sigurðsson could well find himself lacking the sharpness to his game that everyone will expect. The added weight of 45 million coins metaphorically tied around his neck may also become a factor working against him at Everton, although, for a player who has had a large hand in 53 goals being scored in the last three season’s, there’s a level of consistency with his play to suggest it will be money well spent.
PREDICTION: Manchester City 2 – 1 Everton
Everton will certainly be a force to be reckoned with in the Premiership this season, however, City looked fearless and a team re-born throughout their pre-season. While it’s true that Guardiola was unable to beat Koeman’s side last season, Everton largely struggled against the top-six teams that finished above them and this type of game will go a long way towards defining Everton’s current campaign.
I think they will see an improvement in this area but for this game, City will prove slightly too much in a game of fine-margins.
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