Carlo Ancelotti’s side were beaten comfortably at home to Fulham on Sunday, following similarly limp Goodison Park losses to West Ham and Newcastle last month.
They have not triumphed in a league game at an empty Goodison since October 3, while leaders City are currently on a remarkable 16-game winning streak in all competitions.
This game was supposed to be played on December 28, but was postponed just four hours before kick-off due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the City camp.
RBM: Firstly, what do you think’s been the secret to City’s stunning 16-game winning run they’re currently on?
Saul: Versatility. With so many injuries, Pep Guardiola’s had to adjust, as have his players. You now have Aymeric Laporte playing left-back, Ilkay Gundogan playing higher up the field and no real striker in the side.
Gabriel Jesus on the wing and Ferran Torres as a ‘false nine’ are other Guardiola innovations. It’s made for a fun and unpredictable City that led to these 16 wins.
RBM: Given City have been without Sergio Aguero almost all season and recently Kevin De Bruyne too, have you been at all surprised by how well they’ve coped in their absences?
Saul: Yes. Gundogan has become Diego Maradona reincarnated and a mixed front three has kept defences on their toes all season. Guardiola has made them in unison fill up the goals Aguero left behind.
RBM: Phil Foden looks to have become a more integral part of Guardiola’s plans lately, despite being just 20. Where has he most improved, and what is his best position?
Saul: For Foden, it might be as a winger. The swapping he does with Raheem Sterling and Jesus or Riyad Mahrez has led to much more open space which one of them or a midfielder can fill, and that has been how they score.
His improvement has been a credit to Guardiola and how aware he has made him. Foden now seemingly sees the pitch more clearly and that is a result of Guardiola’s revamped tactical work.
RBM: City’s top scorer is, somewhat surprisingly, Ilkay Gundogan with 13. What is the midfielder doing differently to have triggered such a goal glut?
Saul: He has new instructions. Guardiola has been playing him more as a number ten and he has done runs all season that De Bruyne would normally do.
So, instead of being behind De Bruyne, he is at the top of the box constantly, and that is where his goals come from. It also helps he has seemingly developed excellent vision and also has his fair share of assists.
RBM: Where, if anywhere, do City look weakest at the moment?
Saul: Maybe nowhere? If I had to pick, it would be in the attack, because the last time CIty dropped points was against a low-lying West Brom, who were extremely hard to break down.
Add a couple of 1-0 wins, and it feels like sometimes the team gets stuck in trying to walk the ball in the net, which results in fewer goals.
RBM: City have had a midweek game every week since the last week of December, when the Everton game was postponed. Have you seen many signs of fatigue lately?
Saul: Not really. Guardiola has depth to spare in this club. It’s a testament to how the club has backed him, as literally every need has been met, even if late, like with a centre-back signing [Ruben Dias] this past summer.
Everton were surging when the match got moved so if anything, Guardiola now has a better rotation system in place with more practice.
RBM: How do you expect City to set up on Wednesday?
Saul: Since Foden played at the weekend, Guardiola will probably play Mahrez, and Gundogan might be out injured, so we could see either a double pivot with Fernandinho and Rodri, or a third centre-back.
If I had to guess he’d play: Ederson; Mendy (for rotation), Dias, Stones, Cancelo; Rodri, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva; Sterling, Torres, Mahrez.
RBM: Foden and Gundogan aside, which of City’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems?
Saul: Joao Cancelo, Sterling and/or Mahrez. Cancelo has been a fun revelation, as he has really settled in and played well both attacking up the flank or pinching in and playing as another defensive midfielder.
The wingers are very good, too. Both of them can pass, shoot and dribble with the best and that will make a difference.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Saul: I see the streak continuing, though City are due a lower-scoring match. I’ll go 1-0 City.
Our thanks to Saul for his time.