Three separate international breaks during the first half of the season makes building up any rhythm or momentum difficult, though in Everton’s case this break probably came at a good time.
With injuries mounting and form on the slide, the two-week break gave those injured players a bit more time to get fit, others who have just returned to fitness time build up their match sharpness and those out of form the chance to get away for a while.
Will it make much of a difference against one of the best sides in Europe? The odds say no, but Everton cannot see this as a throwaway game given the poor run they are already on and the fixtures coming up.
The kind start gifted to them by the fixture computer has now made way for an imposing run of games between now and Christmas, with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all lying in wait before Santa arrives, as well as tricky trips to Brentford and Crystal Palace.
The fractious draw with Spurs last time out at least saw a bit of determination and spirit restored after three limp defeats on the spin. The lack of quality was evident but not unexpected given the injury situation.
Similar levels of effort and concentration will be required at Eithad Stadium on Sunday.
It says much about the impact Pep Guardiola has had on Manchester City that if they won every trophy in sight this season you would not be that surprised.
How did City respond? Splashing £100m on Jack Grealish of course. Another attacking midfielder to go with their already glittering collection.
What they lacked was an out-and-out striker (not that they struggled last year) with Tottenham’s Harry Kane in their sights over the summer.
As we know the England captain did not end up at the Etihad, and the rest of the league should probably be grateful as I would struggle to see anyone stopping them if you added a 30-goal-a-season striker on top of what they already have.
As it is there is a glimmer of hope for the other sides. Guardiola has adapted the side to more than cope though, they go into this game looking to avoid a second successive home league defeat after losing 2-0 to Crystal Palace last month.
That leaves them trailing early pace-setters Chelsea in what is increasingly looking like a three-way title race along with them lot from across the park.
You can understand why Evertonians head to Manchester in hope more than expectation. And if you don’t, just look at the stats.
City have won the last have won seven Premier League matches in a row against the Toffees, scoring 21 and conceding five. Everton are without a win in 11 games at Etihad Stadium and have won just one of the last 16 fixtures at any stadium – the 4-0 victory under Ronald Koeman in early 2017.
Rafa Benitez has confirmed that Yerry Mina, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Andre Gomes and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are still sidelined.
Tom Davies is also on the injured list with a knee problem that could reportedly keep him out to mid-December. Mason Holgate serves the first of a three-match ban for his red card against Tottenham a fortnight ago.
Man City 5-0 Everton, May 23 2021
A dreadful end to the season as Everton downed tools and were blitzed by a Manchester City side who barely got out of second gear.
What they said
Everton manager Rafael Benitez: “We know we will be playing against a good team but are confident we can do well.
“Our last game against Tottenham, the team showed character with the right mentality and that’s what we have to do in every match.
“All the teams in the world need positive results for confidence.
“The fact we did well [against Spurs] in terms of the intensity and commitment of the players until the last minute was quite positive.
“We did that in a lot of games, especially at Goodison Park.
“I expect the team can get a result [against City] and then if this is the first one [since beating Norwich], it would be easy for me to motivate the players for the next games.”
Man City boss Pep Guardiola: “We have finished the first quarter of the season – and have many games ahead of us.
“In general we made good performances, but we dropped points at home when we were not at our normal level.
“Now, until January, there is no international break and hopefully we can get a point and qualify for the Champions League and fight for the title at the end of the season.
“I would not say the previous seasons when we were champions or close to the top, the race was as difficult as it is now.”
Expectations are understandably low for this one, especially with Doucoure and Calvert-Lewin still out. But a fit-again Richarlison and in-form Fabian Delph (something I never thought I would write) should bolster the spine of the side. Hopefully Benitez has also been able to iron out some of the team’s defensive deficiencies, particularly from set pieces, during the break.
A lot of things will have to fall in Everton’s favour for them to have a chance.