A heavily changed Everton side could not stop Man City from returning to the top of the Premier League table on Wednesday night as Pep Guardiola’s side added to Goodison’s blues with a 0-2 victory.
Leroy Sane relished his return to the first team as he started brightly coming closest in the opening encounters of the game – his lashed volley from the edge of the box after Everton failed to clear a corner nearly broke the deadlock yet flew past the post.
Everton’s spirited defensive performance saw them put up a fight in front of the Goodison faithful which often led to scrappy encounters. Some last-ditch defending saw Ilkay Gundogan’s effort shoot up onto Jordan Pickford’s crossbar and the German midfielder was at the center of more drama soon after as he was brought down clumsily by Andre Gomes just inside the penalty area, but referee Craig Pawson waved away appeals.
Despite Marco Silva’s sides best efforts, Man City were to be denied no longer as after Aymeric Laporte had previously headed wide there were no mistakes just before halftime as the Frenchman towered over the Everton defenders, meeting David Silva’s free-kick delivery with a brilliant header that was out of the reach of Pickford. Despite Everton containing Man City’s attack for most of the half, the Toffees could not muster up any attack of their own only managing to put one shot on target during the entirety of the fixture.
City came close to extending their lead midway through the second half as Pickford’s punch saw Sergio Aguero react quickest, firing an overhead kick wide. The final goal of the game came in the closing minutes of added time. Everton looked to send the ball long in an effort to find a late equalizer but it was broken down quickly and Kevin De Bruyne took control, playing Gabriel Jesus through whose initial attempt was saved before he followed through and looped a header into the empty net.
The current Premier League champions put pressure on Liverpool as they took their spot at the top of the table in Merseyside and although Guardiola complained about his teams’ fixture schedule, he must be pleased knowing that his side have put the pressure on Jurgen Klopp’s men to deliver.
Man City back on top
Guardiola will have known that this game was a must win for his side. When a title race becomes as close as it has done, it is not just about how well your team can perform but it becomes a psychological battle in which a midweek win can give your side the upper hand.
That is exactly what the Manchester side have done, returning to the top spot for the first time in 2019. Liverpool will no doubt be feeling the pressure after they have drawn their last two fixtures, dropping four pivotal points in the process. City have the tougher game this weekend as they host Chelsea, but they will be confident having claimed the top spot again. Meanwhile, Liverpool meet Bournemouth but teams recently have been able to break down what looked to be an impenetrable defense and their attackers have not been finding the back of the net a frequently as they had been doing which will give Eddie Howe’s side hope.
Pep’s side then have a run of fixtures outside of the Premier League as they play in the FA Cup, the Champions League and the League Cup final whilst Liverpool have a rest weekend during the fifth round of the FA Cup. Will City struggle to fight the battle on all fronts, or will their games in hand that they get work in their favour? Time will tell.
Does Silva know his best side?
Marco Silva made five changes to his side against City. His selection meant that he dropped Seamus Coleman, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison and while he may have been looking to rest some players, dropping his two highest goal scorers is exactly what Everton do not need.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin also featured, leading Everton’s attack, but was this the right game to experiment in an attempt to find your best side? This season, Silva has had perhaps too many hesitations about his squad selection. He has moved Richarlison around from winger to striker multiple times whilst also alternating his wingers and midfield combination.
Its clear that Silva has an abundance of talent in front of him, but he does not seem to know how to get them to play together. However, making five drastic changes against Manchester City is not the way to find your best side.
Were Everton tactics merited?
Whilst Everton’s squad selection may have been drastic, were Everton’s tactics merited? Over the Christmas period, Everton tried to match fire with fire when their tactics were to attack a Tottenham side who simply ripped them apart with better attacking play.
Perhaps the 2-6 thumping at home taught Marco Silva a lesson as the Toffees tactics were to be much more defensive in their efforts to earn points. If they had attempted to attack City, they would have been undoubtedly beaten badly. It would be harsh however to suggest that Silva got his tactics wrong. Many teams have put on a defensive display and still earned points against the champions.
The only problem was that Everton could not get any form of attack going. They only managed one shot on target and did not manage to make any clear-cut chances during the game. They did keep the scoring low which will have been their tactic as they would have hoped to hit City on the break and earn points but an out of form attack never looked like scoring as City ultimately eased through the game to take all three points.
In a defensive aspect, Silva’s tactics were perfectly justifiable, but his tactics to catch them on the break were unsuccessful.
Are City finding form at the right time?
After the champions dropped points losing to Newcastle, City have responded with real passion and looked formidable. A 3-1 win over Arsenal and beating Everton have looked simple for Pep’s side as they have managed to return to the top.
After a tough Christmas period that saw them lose twice, it looked as if Liverpool may get too far out of reach with a blip against Newcastle giving Liverpool the perfect opportunity to do so, but that has not been the case. Liverpool have dropped four points in their last two games and City have capitalized and added more drama to the title race.
If there was a period that City need to perform, it was now. With three cup competition fixtures after the Chelsea game, before their next league fixture, they will have not wanted to be too far off Liverpool giving them the chance to pull away from them and meaning they would have to play catch up.
If City have hit form, it is a bad time for Liverpool to start slipping up as consistency becomes key in the war of attrition.