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Everton attempt to halt Guardiola’s Man City

Toffees face tough trip to Etihad Stadium

Manchester City v Everton - Capital One Cup Semi Final: Second Leg Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Welcome back everyone.

Is it me or did that international break feel much longer than normal? The two week gap felt more like a month, not helped by some largely uninspiring performances by England and the USMNT.

Anyway, the Premier League is back now and for Everton it is a real toughy. In, fact it perhaps doesn’t come much tougher than a trip to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City, the Premier League leaders.

The Ronald Koeman revolution couldn’t have gone much better in the opening four matches of the season. But three patchy results - and performances - since have proven a sharp reality check. The legacy of Roberto Martinez has not yet totally been shaken off.

Therefore we head across the M62 wondering what Everton we will see, the one that won three out of their first four games or the side that crumbled at home to Championship Norwich in the EFL Cup.

This match also carries with it the fascinating narrative involving the two managers.

Koeman and Pep Guardiola were teammates at Barcelona in the 1990s, helping the Spanish side win four successive league titles and the club’s first European Cup.

Barca’s manager at the time, the legendary Johan Cruyff, advised Guardiola to learn from his older teammate Koeman, setting Guardiola on a path that would lead to managerial glory.

Koeman and Guardiola remain good friends and share the same footballing philosophies, dating back to those halcyon years in Catalunya.

It will be fascinating to see how their teams fare when they go head-to-head on Saturday.

The other interesting sub-plot is John Stones’ first game against the Toffees since his big-money departure in the summer.

Evertonians consoled themselves with the theory that Stones was a luxury they didn’t really need, with Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams much more in the image of their manager.

At the Etihad however, Stones was the sort of cultural defender Guardiola cultivated at the Nou Camp. Everton were also handsomely compensated for the England man, meaning everyone was satisfied with the deal in the end.

Opposition

Sheikh Mansour’s continued backing and fierce ambition to turn City into the biggest team in the world lured Guardiola to the club from Bayern Munich this summer.

Guardiola subsequently splashed out in excess of £100m in attempt to build a squad capable of challenging both domestically and in Europe.

As well as the aforementioned Stones the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Nolito swelled the ranks at the Etihad.

However, it is the players already at the club that have impressed so far this season.

Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and, who else, Sergio Aguero, helped City win their first 10 games in all competitions, plundering 30 goals in the process.

However, a Champions League draw with Celtic and defeat last time out at Tottenham has suggested there are chinks in the Guardiola after all.

It seems Koeman’s high-pressing game may well be the ideal approach to take on the league leaders.

There’s also the uncertainty created by the international break. With players scattered all over the globe preparation for this weekend’s game has been far from ideal, raising the possibility of a few shock results.

Team news

Koeman has confirmed that Romelu Lukaku, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines will be fit for the trip to Etihad Stadium.

Baines has missed Everton’s last two games with a hamstring strain while Lukaku and Jagielka both picked up knocks on international duty.

Darron Gibson is also fit to return to the squad but Aaron Lennon is doubtful.

James McCarthy is to be assessed after playing twice in four days for Republic of Ireland despite just coming back from groin surgery.

For Man City, forward De Bruyne faces a late test despite being ahead of schedule in his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Aguero played 90 minutes for Argentina in midweek despite picking up a thigh strain in training so should be fit, unfortunately.

Verdict

The short trip across to the Etihad Stadium is one of the toughest Everton will make this season so expectations are understandably low, despite the team’s good start.

It also represents Koeman’s first real test as Everton manager so it will be fascinating to see how he approaches the game.

My hunch is that he will be more dynamic than David Moyes’ cautious approach to such matches but a touch more conservative compared to Roberto Martinez’s total football philosophy.

Either way it will be tough to claim anything from Guardiola’s side, so even a point should be considered a bonus.

Expected starting XI: Stekelenburg, Baines, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Gueye, Barkley, Mirallas, Bolaise, Lukaku.