For about 90 seconds, the script appeared all too familiar. Everton had played well enough to gain a 1-0 lead, only to have a lapse and concede an equalizer and head home with a one-all draw. That's what looked likely because that's been a recurring theme over the past two months. Only in this instance, a home draw versus City wouldn't be rewarded with a point. Instead, it'd be rewarded with a tall task in Leg two at the Etihad.
Then Gareth Barry delivered that pass to a hobbled Romelu Lukaku. Limping through the closing minutes, the Belgian managed one last jump to get his head on Barry's ball and get it past Willy Caballero to power Everton to a win. In a year where Roberto Martinez has declared that Everton must win a trophy, the second leg is now of great importance because Everton have put themselves in a position to get through.
Let's dive right in to what Everton can do to take care of business in Manchester. Obviously, the Toffees will look to build on what went right in Wednesday's win, and that all starts with the aforementioned Barry. The midfielder went from having a good performance to a Man of the Match one with that winning assist, but what he did all game long before that may hold the key for Everton's attack in the second leg.
Along with Mo Besic, Barry picked out all the right passes in transition, and more importantly, he did this without hesitation. For much of the game, City was on the front foot, so when Everton did make a stop and had a chance to move forward, Barry was often the player making that first key pass to spark a counter. The recipient of these passes was Gerard Deulofeu, who himself was having a great game until running out of steam in the 66th minute. From there, we knew the drill, and so did Everton. They got the ball to Lukaku, who made it clear he intended to nick a goal, even if he had to score a couple disallowed ones first.
On the City side, there wasn't that same presence of that crux midfielder. This of course falls on the broad shoulders of Yaya Toure, who basically morphed into last season's Toure in pulling a disappearing act on the pitch. In what wasn't a man-marking scheme, but often ended up looking like one, Besic was the man who contained Toure for most of the game. When Toure did have the ball, Besic forced his passes to safe areas, and when Besic had the ball, well that was just a sad showing on Toure's part.
Besic and Barry's dominance in the middle third was not only characterized by making the right passes, but also by what it did to the City attack. Toure and David Silva were rendered ineffective with little valuable space to roam on the pitch. Ever willing to play on the wing, Kevin De Bruyne flashed as usual for the Citizens, but even his best chances were either saved by Joel Robles or snuffed out by Leighton Baines or Seamus Coleman blocks.
Of course, we can't focus on Everton's transition efforts without mentioning the City goal. While it was disappointing to see the defense shredded so quickly late in the game, more than anything it comes down to a team's top player making a top play. Sergio Aguero's absurdly clean trap on the City clearance immediately put Everton's defense behind the 8-ball. When Aguero followed his trap by making the perfect pass to Jesus Navas, there wasn't much anyone could do at that point.
Everton maintained 47 percent possession on the first leg. That number feels high, but maybe that's because City fired 10 more shots and had a deluge corner kicks at one point. In any case, that 47 percent will likely drop at the Etihad, and based their home form in the league this year, City will likely score at least once in the second leg. This will make the transitional attack more important. In scoring through both transition and set pieces on Wednesday night, the Toffees found their best formulas against a depleted City defense. If the holding midfielders once again take control, Everton won't need the ball a ton to earn the draw they need on January 27th.