Everton kick off 2020 with a visit to the defending champions, Manchester City, looking to extend Carlo Ancelotti’s perfect start as manager.
Ancelotti won his first two matches as Blues boss against Burnley and Newcastle but a trip to City, who left Goodison Park with a 3-1 victory in September, will surely offer him his hardest test yet.
City have failed to keep pace with rampant Liverpool this term, and enter the new year in third, a point behind Leicester City and 14 away from the leaders.
But Pep Guardiola’s side have won their last four matches against Everton, with striker Gabriel Jesus scoring in all of them.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, we spoke to Saul Garcia, City fan and writer for their dedicated SB Nation page, Bitter and Blue:
RBM: Firstly, do you hold out any hope at all that City can still catch Liverpool this season and win the title?
Saul: Some, but not much. Liverpool last year after Christmas had an 11 point lead and blew that. So while there is precedent this time around it’s unlikely with the gap at 14 and Liverpool with one game in hand.
RBM: What do you think is the main reason behind City’s failure to keep pace with Liverpool this year?
Saul: Injuries. About 10 of them to be exact and notably Leroy Sane and Aymeric Laporte. Those two were linchpins of the last two seasons and haven’t been there at all this season. That and lack of reinforcements over the summer. Instead of a new CB to make up for Vincent Kompany’s departure, City signed a back up right back for 60+ million pounds (Joao Cancelo).
RBM: Do you think, given their league position, Guardiola will prioritise winning the Champions League this season, and would you happy if he did?
Saul: Yes and he’s said as much. Champions League is priority. A wise decision given that’s what many in and outside the club thought he was brought in to give City European relevance. Given City’s domestic excellence the last two seasons this might be a welcomed development give the course of the league.
RBM: Do you expect a squad overhaul at City next summer, and if so, who needs to leave?
Saul: Yes. David Silva, Fernandiñho are probably gone and rumors of Sane leaving will mean reinforcements are inbound. Add to that speculation that Pep wants a new forward and overhaul of the defense and you could see John Stones and Gabriel Jesus out the door as well.
RBM: Are you convinced that Guardiola will stick around for at least another year?
Saul: I do, I think he honors his contract which goes until Summer of 2021. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. The City Football Group has positioned the club well in its infrastructure, youth academy and transfer strategy. Any new coach will have many perks with this job. Many of us thought Mikel Arteta, now at Arsenal, would be the successor, but now that he is gone someone of similar tactics to Pep could be called in 2021.
RBM: Which areas of the pitch do you think Everton can hurt City the most?
Saul: On the wings. Given our shaky defense and fullback woes, I could see Everton using speed and mostly counter attacks to hurt City. Players like Moise Kean, Richarlison and Alex Iwobi could and would need to have great game to beat this City side.
RBM: How do you expect City to set up on Wednesday?
Saul: Pep is notoriously stubborn so something similar to Saturday is probably in the cards. With Ederson back from his red card ban, a defense of Mendy, Fernandiñho, Garcia/Otamendi, Walker. A midfield of Rodrigo, Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne. And up top Sterling, Aguero and Bernardo Silva.
RBM: Which of City’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Saul: De Bruyne for sure and Aguero. Those two have been so important to the last two seasons successes.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Saul: A high scoring affair is my guess. 4-2 for City.
Our thanks to Saul for his time.