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Everton vs. Manchester City: 5 Thoughts

Expectations need to be managed, Baines misses Pienaar and Barkley is human after all.

Michael Steele

1. Expectations need to be managed.

Going into the Manchester City game this weekend, you could forgive Evertonians for getting a little giddy following the Toffees' unbeaten start to the season. Three straight wins and fourth position in the table will do that, but a disappointing first defeat of the campaign at the Etihad will have caused many fans to re-evaluate their expectations.

As sobering as this might be, it's for the best. A flying start shouldn't be read into too much, especially as new players are still to bed in, and Roberto Martinez's philosophy continues to be implemented. The fact is that the blues have a side that's capable of challenging for the lesser European places, but that lags behind their nearest rivals in terms of quality and depth.

A loss against a City side that could well finish the season as champions isn't something to be lamented, but it should serve as a timely reminder of the unfortunate gap between Everton and the Premier League's elite.

2. Barkley is human after all.

Few would argue that Ross Barkley has been one of Everton's standout performers this year. Indeed, the 19 year old has emerged this season as one of the Premier League's most exciting young players, and has rightly earned his recent call up to the senior England squad.

But Barkley was subdued against Man City, pressured consistently by the hosts' midfield duo of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure. While he still completed more passes than any of his teammates (41), his overall play was frequently naïve, and lacked the incision of previous performances against Newcastle and West Ham - understandable given the greater quality of opposition on Saturday.

While he has so far done his best to project the image of a remarkably complete number 10, it's important to remember that the young blue still has much developing to do, both in terms of physique and fitness, and his tactical nous. He can't be expected to maintain the stellar level of performance he's demonstrated so far, but the good news for Everton fans is that Barkley can only get better from here.

3. Defensive lapses continue to prove costly.

Everton have been one of the Premier League's most exciting teams to watch in recent weeks, but the Toffees' erratic defensive record has had as much to do with this as their potency going forward. At the Etihad, Roberto Martinez's side were again found out at the back, and on this occasion there were no Leighton Baines free kicks to bail them out.

Seamus Coleman was particularly culpable, distracting Tim Howard by rowing with Alvaro Negredo prior to Sergio Aguero's strike, and foolishly tugging Pablo Zabaleta's shirt to give away a penalty in the second half. He and the rest of Everton's back four must rediscover their miserly, David Moyes-era form if the blues are to avoid throwing away too many points this season.

4. Might Lukaku be better used as a substitute?

Three and half games into his Everton career, Romelu Lukaku is already becoming a fan favourite - and rightly so. The gargantuan Belgian has netted four times already, and his hold up play and ability on the ball has also proved revelatory after weeks spent watching Nikica Jelavic flounder up front.

But against both Newcastle and Man City at the weekend, his performances deteriorated as time wore on, losing his early explosiveness and giving away possession on a number of occasions. Still only 20, Lukaku may not yet be ready to play 90 minutes week in, week out, despite his prodigious talent. As a result, Everton might do well to look at Steve Clarke's managing of him during his spell at West Brom last season, where Lukaku was unleashed on tired defences after willing runner Shane Long had worn them down.

5. The sooner Pienaar returns to fitness, the better.

For the second successive game, Leighton Baines was kept unusually quiet for Everton. With Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith notionally playing on the wings against Manchester City, the talismanic left back lacked a teammate that could bring out the best in him going forward, an issue that wasn't solved with the late introduction of Gerard Deulofeu either.

Having been out for almost a month however, Baines' partner in crime Steven Pienaar should be eligible for selection again following the international break, and it stands to reason that the South African's return should spark an upturn in form from his teammate. Let's hope that that is the case, as despite the addition of Lukaku, Baines remains arguably Everton's greatest attacking threat.