Depth in Goal
When Jordan Pickford went down last weekend, Carlo Ancelotti was forced to bring on his third-string goalkeeper — Robin Olsen, who plays backup to Pickford, was also injured. But since logging his first minutes of league action last Saturday, João Virgínia has proven to be a capable deputy. For just his second full start, the 21-year-old was tasked with quieting one of the most talented squads in the European game (City’s bench could have formed an outfit capable of competing for the title).
Nevertheless, the Portuguese shot-stopper kept his side in the contest for 84 minutes. Virgínia made four saves, one punch, two clearances and stopped two shots from inside the box. His highlight reel of a play came in the 59’ against Raheem Sterling; the crafty winger launched a side-footed shot from 12 yards out, but the Portuguese leapt to his left and parried the ball wide. Injuries are a part of the sport, so it helps to have a capable third option in net.
The last time Everton rolled with a 5-3-2 formation, they were blanking Liverpool at Anfield. With the return of an ultra-defensive, counter-attack-reliant setup, the game plan was obvious from the beginning: the Toffees would sit back, absorb pressure and try to break on the counter to steal a goal. And it almost worked; the Blues held City — a team that averages over two goals per game — scoreless for 84 minutes. For over an hour and a quarter, the Merseyside outfit stifled the Citizens to the point of looks of disbelief and constant head shaking.
Whenever the camera panned to Pep Guardiola on the touchline, the Spaniard epitomized frustration. That all changed when İlkay Gündoğan sent a diving header into the back of the net. After getting blown out 3–1 versus City one month ago, Everton held with the billion-dollar club for 93-percent of Saturday’s affair, getting within six minutes of forcing extra time.
When a team like Manchester City, which is in such great form, comes to town, it is best to assume a loss will follow. You tell yourself that if your team keeps it close, the game will be a success, regardless of the outcome. Secretly, though, you hope for a win, and when your team keeps it competitive for 84 minutes, that hope begins to grow. Ancelotti developed a plan to blank the Citizens, his players executed it to perfection for a majority of the match, until one moment of brilliance saw the budding hope clipped and left to rot.
It didn’t matter that the home side managed only two shots on net, or that they were held to a meager 25-percent possession, they went toe-to-toe on Saturday with the soon-to-be champions of the Premier League and a side still in contention for an unheard of quadruple. Hope is a fickle friend, inviting you out to a fancy restaurant for dinner, only to break your heart right as you open yourself up. Such is the life of a sports fan, a plight Evertonians know far too well.