Everton knew even before the opening whistle against Manchester City that they already had fifth place sealed up with both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United losing in the earlier fixtures. All that remained was to fight for three points to keep the pressure on Arsenal for the fourth spot and final European Champions League place. Just to add some spice to that mix, a win for the Blues would have virtually handed their crosstown rivals the reins to the Premier League race as well.
As things turned out, City showed why they were the better team but also had to resort some playacting from Edin Dzeko to seal the 3-2 win and throw the sprint to the title open again. Everton looked discordant with Gareth Barry ineligible to play against his parent club, and a couple of poor performances on the pitch put paid to any chances of winning. The team as a whole appeared very uncomfortable in the experimental 3-5-2 / 3-4-3 / 3-4-2-1 lineup, with Baines and Coleman both ill at ease with what their defensive responsibilities needed to be.
Tim Howard - 4.5
Not a good day for the goalie. He looked slow all game long, was poorly positioned a couple of times and got beaten all too easily. Let in a soft one from Sergio Aguero on the near side for City's equalizer, his despairing dive wasn't good enough to stop Dzeko's header for the second and had little chance to get to Nasri's cutback before Dzeko slid in the winner.
Antolín Alcaraz - 4
The Paraguayan international had yet another forgettable match. His other poor outing was a rout at Anfield, and he was in similar (lack of) form yesterday too. Poor positional play, general lack of pace, ball-watching, you name it. More than one fan queried aloud whether Luke Garbutt would have been a better choice on the day.
The club captain was marking his return from injury in the center of the three-man backline, but wasn't his usual inspirational self. Got caught out expecting Aguero to cross the ball for the first, and was guilty of leaving Dzeko unmarked on the second goal. Visibly lacked match fitness.
John Stones - 6
The youngster played on his favored right side and was halfway decent too, but was equally culpable for the second and third goals. His tackling was solid and he stood up to Yaya Toure a couple of times, albeit not too successfully.
Leighton Baines - 6.5
After a largely quiet first half, Baines came to life in the second as he was freed of all defensive responsibilities to bomb forward. His partnership with Osman/McGeady will never hit the heady heights of that with Steven Pienaar unfortunately. Had a couple of fantastic crosses into the box that had the City defence in disarray, one of which resulted in Lukaku's goal.
Leon Osman - 5.5 [off 83']
Osman had another inconsequential game, with his one useful contribution being setting Baines free down the left to create Barkley's stunner.
James McCarthy - 6
Another player who had a poor first session to the game. This is also not the first game of the season we have seen McCarthy start slowly before finishing strong. His legs have taken a beating this season and fans will be hoping Darron Gibson will return to full fitness next season to spot him a few breaks.
Seamus Coleman - 5.5
The Republic of Ireland player was a big disappointment on the day. One would have thought that he would have relished the opportunity to play higher up the pitch with the three-man backline, but was kept quiet for most of the game by Gael Clichy and struggled to make an impact.
Ross Barkley - 8
Roy Hodgson got quite the live show put on for him by the youngster. Running with pace and purpose, he scored a spectacular opening goal, broke free to set up Naismith for what should have been Everton's second, and was brought down (illegally?) in the box after another lung-bursting run for what could have been a third. His guile and flair are a treat to watch, and paired with Southampton's Adam Llalana could give Three Lions fans quite a treat this summer in Brazil.
Steven Naismith - 6.5
Naismith was his usual hard-working self, but as we have seen time and again, is limited in his abilities too. Great lay-up for Barkley to score the opener, and was unfortunate to not have a goal that would have swung the game wide open when he placed the ball to Joe Hart's right, but the England keeper pushed away his effort for a corner.
Romelu Lukaku - 6
In recent games Jose Mourinho's comments that the Belgian is not ready to be a full time starter in the Premier League yet have been proven to be true. He tends to get lost quite often, and was kept under wraps by means both fair and foul by his countryman Vincent Kompany. Came up with a cracking header to drag Everton back into the game in the 65th minute.
Gerard Deulofeu - 7.5 [on 66']
This was the usual Deulofeu, lots of pace and guile which had the City defence in knots but then too quick to go to ground when challenged physically. He had one fantastic slaloming run through the backline that was only foiled by Hart, who singlehandedly kept City alive in the Championship race.
Aiden McGeady - N/A [on 83']
Came on with too little time to do much, and the bulk of that was then wasted with ref Lee Probert choosing to take a front row seat to Dzeko's histrionics.
Roberto Martinez - 7
The gaffer took a bit of a gamble with the experimental lineup, but had a couple of pieces in that puzzle clicked a little better, we would have been here giving him an '8' and he would have been the toast of the red half of Merseyside. As things stand, the lot across Stanley Park along with the commentators on Sky were busy crying foul (and other uncomplimentary things like 'match fixing') anyways, which has been their wont for years now so we'll just ignore them.