‘I would happily take a scrappy 1-0 to maintain our upward momentum’
It’s not often I get predictions right, so I will gladly take this one.
Saturday’s game went as most people expected, with both sides struggling to create much in rotten conditions at Bramall Lane.
Everton, already shorn of so many attacking players, also looked leggy as a result of their recent excursions. But the fact they still dug in and got the victory is testament to their character. It’s matches like these that often prove pivotal in the final shake up.
A fourth straight win lifted the Toffees up to second and revived some of that early season excitement and anticipation of what this team could be capable of.
They aren’t as free-flowing as they were in September, but that is no surprise given the players missing from the side. Instead, they have adapted and found an alternative way to win matches.
The table is still ridiculously tight and a few adverse results will see us tumble again. But to still be in amongst it at this stage suggests they are good enough to stay there until the end of the season.
To put it in perspective: at the same stage last season the Toffees were in the relegation zone and sacked Marco Silva.
The Premier League schedulers have kindly handed us another match just 48 hours later, which will likely have an impact on selection, energy levels and performance.
But while the legs will be weary, confidence will be sky-high. And you never know, that may well be enough.
After achieving something close to footballing perfection a few year’s ago, there was only ever once place for Manchester City to go and that was down.
Not that they have drifted too far. Liverpool reached new heights to take the title last season after two years at the Etihad but they still managed to win the EFL Cup, reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the last eight of the Champions League.
That, however, is deemed a failure for a manager of Pep Guardiola’s standards and of an owner whose multi-billion pound investment has transformed the club over the past decade and as a result demands nothing but victory.
And despite their inconsistent start this term, three points on Monday will lift them level on points with Everton with a game in hand.
Their current tally of 26 points is still their lowest tally after 14 matches for 10 years, though they head to Goodison unbeaten in 10 matches in all competitions, winning seven and drawing three and looking to secure a sixth successive win against the Toffees, their best run of victories against Everton in the history of the fixture.
If they get into their groove in the new year then there are few sides in the league who can stop them.
Manchester City 2-1 Everton, January 1 2020
You have to go back nearly exactly a year ago since the side’s last met. Two goals from Gabriel Jesus was enough to secure the points for City and end Carlo Ancelotti’s unbeaten start as Toffees boss, despite Richarlison’s strike setting up a nervy finish.
Everton have no fresh injury concerns but the quick turnaround means Ancelotti may look to rotate, though he does not have many options.
Seamus Coleman, Bernard, Andre Gomes and Robin Olsen are among those who could come into the side.
Richarlison is still out with concussion, while James Rodriguez misses a sixth game with a calf injury.
Lucas Digne and Fabian Delph are still ruled out with hamstring injuries.
Sheffield United (A) Won 1-0
Man Utd (H - Carabao Cup) Lost 2-0
Arsenal (H) Won 2-1
Leicester (A) Won 2-0
Chelsea (H) Won 1-0
Newcastle (H) Won 2-0
Arsenal (A - Carabao Cup) Won 4-1
Southampton (A) Won 1-0
West brom (H) Drew 1-1
Man Utd (A) Drew 0-0
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “We are pleased to be there [second] but we have to stay focused and concentrated and keep fighting.
“We have done better away this season but there is only one reason: if we had our supporters behind us at Goodison Park, we’d have won more games.
“We don’t have to look [at the future] too much, we have another game in two days and have to try to do our best to prepare for this game.
“It is almost impossible but we have to try.”
Saying this is a free hit would be a tad negative, but recent results combined with the lack of rest time from the Sheffield United game means Everton can go into this match free of any pressure.
The continued lack of creative options means they will likely try and grind this one out.
It will be a tough ask against one of the best attacking sides in Europe, but this is a team that continues to surprise.