It was only three weeks ago that Gareth Barry and Muhamed Besic outplayed Yaya Toure and David Silva in the middle third to lead Everton to a 2-1 win in the first leg of the League Cup semis.
But in the midst of one of the most unlucky and unfortunate stretches in recent memory for the Toffees, that 2-1 win feels ages ago and instead, images of Kevin De Bruyne's goal-assist-flop-stretcher sequence are seared into the mind of every Everton supporter.
But following a second leg that looked much like the first, at least for an hour, how did transition play a role in Everton's loss after it swung favorably in the Toffees direction in early January at Goodison Park?
Attack peaked with Deulofeu
The first half and early second was the even, high-tempo affair you'd expect, and like Leg 1, Gerard Deulofeu was a benefactor of this. More so than he's done in the league this season, the winger was able to get out ahead of the attack, probably due to City lacking pace for the fullback position. This was evident on Everton's first chance created as Deulofeu made a charge up the right flank to force the home side to surrender a corner.
When Deulofeu wasn't making dribbling runs ahead, he was moving without the ball, a skills that he's rapidly improving at in his first season as a regular member in the XI. Early in the second half, Deulofeu would get his best scoring chance of the game when he got out ahead and received a perfect ball from Ross Barkley, who was leading the counter in this instance. The chance was saved by Willy Caballero, but it once again showed the Spaniard broadening his game.
The third example of Deulofeu's importance in transition involved him starting the attack. Though Barkley's goal will obviously be the signature transition moment to be remembered from this game, poor City defending doesn't point to that play being sustainable. However, a Deulofeu-Barkley moment in the 32nd minute was a microcosm of Everton at its best.
After Deulofeu found Barkley on what was his best pass of the game, the space was there for the English midfielder, but with two City defenders ahead of Lukaku, Barkley rushed the ball in and the chance went begging as a strangely unassertive Lukaku failed to make a true play on the ball. Not surprisingly, Deulofeu's exit early in the second half hurt Everton's attack. He's obviously not a defensive-minded player, but his coming off titled the field, as City defenders were able to push forward a bit because of it.
Defense: Aguero, misfortune strike again
He's widely considered the best player in the Premier League when healthy, but if there's one truth Everton fans have learned about Sergio Aguero after this semifinal, it's that the diminutive striker can bring a ball down with the best of them.
After making an insanely difficult trap to lead to City's crucial away goal in Leg 1, he did it again Wednesday to set up City's first half goal. After he pristinely controlled a long forward pass, Aguero's pass to Fernandinho was deflected and yet somehow got through, whose own shot on goal was also deflected, but of course, got through for an equalizer to illicit a giant groan from the royal blue corner of the Etihad.
While the holding midfielders of Barry and Tom Cleverley played well like the Barry/Besic duo did in the first leg, this was once again negated by City bypassing the middle man and playing through directly to Aguero. Twice City did this and twice it went for seemingly unlikely goals. But with a player like Aguero, previously impossible chances get upgraded to unlikely.