Everton travel the short distance to current Premier League champions Manchester City in a game which once again sees Rafa Benitez’s side decimated by injuries. The Toffees will be without Yerry Mina, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Andre Gomes and Tom Davies for this game. Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola’s men have an array of talent all over the pitch and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see their substitutes bench cost more than our whole squad at the weekend, even with key players missing for the defending Premier League champions.
Manchester City rarely revert from their 4-3-3 system, often using a false nine with Gabriel Jesus their only player resembling a natural number nine. They play two inverted wingers, drifting inside to allow space for full backs to exploit. Rodri will act as the central pivot, rarely venturing forward and offering them some defensive solidity. This allows City to play slightly more attacking central midfielders alongside him, whether that be Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva etc.
Fortunately for Everton, it looks like De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish will all be missing, which gives me a chance to look at some other players which could be a threat on Sunday.
A key player in the Guardiola system is fullback Joao Cancelo. Although highly rated by many, I still believe he isn’t recognized enough and personally I believe he is the best full back in world football. Only Allan Saint-Maximin has carried the ball into the final third more times in the whole league. He has also, believe it or not, touched the ball more times than any other player. The Portuguese international has actually touched the ball 208 times more than the player in second place. For a full back, this is an insane number. This shows how vital he is to the way Manchester City play and most attacks will flow through the 27-year-old one way or another.
Often, attacking full backs will get criticised for their defensive work as it’s very rare a player can do it both ways. This isn’t the case for Cancelo. He’s also managed 28 tackles this season which puts him 16th in the whole league. This is a huge number for a team that spends so often attacking. He’s also second highest in the league for interceptions, he really is the complete full back. The best way for Everton to counter this would be to possibly play Andros Townsend on the right hand side. Cancelo will play as an inverted left back and Townsend’s defensive work rate is going to be vital to nullify this threat.
Another player who has been vital for City this season is Bernardo Silva. With the arrival of Grealish and breakthrough of Foden the last eighteen months, there was rumours of Silva leaving last summer. A third into the season and he’s probably been City’s best player. Silva is sixth in the league for dribbles completed and in the central role he’s played for City this season, it’s very impressive. The likes of Allan Saint Maximin and Adam Traore are ahead of him who are of course wide players. His low centre of gravity and close ball control means defenders find it extremely difficult to get the ball off him. He is also outperforming his xG, with three goals from an xG of 1.6.
The defensive work of Bernardo Silva is something that certainly goes unnoticed from a lot of football fans. He’s actually managed 21 tackles this season with only Cancelo managing more than him for Manchester City this season. He has also pressed opposition players more times than any other City player which just shows he has so much more to his game than fancy footwork, ball control and dribbling.
With the amount of injuries Everton have, it’s difficult to decide what system and lineup Everton should play. The defence pretty much picks itself, with Mason Holgate suspended and Yerry Mina out injured. A central two of Ben Godfrey and Michael Keane does worry me. Godfrey is often very useful for his recovery runs in behind but with how defensive I expect us to setup, the space in behind is going to be very limited. The central midfield decision is one I think will split the fan base and is a little more unpredictable. Undoubtedly, Fabian Delph after a decent run of form and Allan will make up two of the midfield but will Rafa pack the midfield again? If so, without Tom Davies, we’re looking at Jean Philippe Gbamin, who has failed to impress in the short time played or Andros Townsend who I expect to start out wide. All we are left with then, is Tyler Onyango, who may well see himself getting an opportunity in this game.
Due to one of their main threats being Cancelo, we may see Townsend playing in this central role, as he often drifts inside from left back and very rarely stays out wide. Having Townsend in the middle will allow him to constantly press Cancelo. If we then play Demarai Gray and ANthony Gordon out wide, this offers the pace on the counter attack.
Crystal Palace recently got a result at the Etihad and despite having a lot less of the ball and setting up defensively, they didn’t alter their lineup to suit this. They still played three attacking forwards which allowed them to counter attack in numbers which really hurt City. This is why I believe we can play Gordon and Gray, with Townsend being the work rate in the central area.
With Richarlison spearheading the attack, the pace we have is going to be vital if we’re going to salvage anything from this game. With many Blues expecting very little from the game, the next fixture against Brentford away is so important. Losing that game could easily see us plummeting towards the relegation zone.