Coming off of the winter World Cup break, there were hopes that Everton could capture three points against the bottom-dwelling Wolverhampton Wanderers at Goodison, before they had to head off to Manchester to play City. Last-second heartbreak — in the form of a goal at the death — put even the dream of collecting a single point from that match to bed, after an early Yerry Mina goal was squandered in a 2-1 defeat.
Frank Lampard’s side, once so promising in appearance after a difficult season last year, is right back under the red-hot spotlight as another relegation battle appears more and more likely this campaign too. Will he survive the glare? A tough outing against the defending champions would help his case, but taking points from Pep—especially at home— is a mountain to climb all in itself.
Manchester City, coming off of an impressive 3-1 victory against Leeds United, look on pace to capture another Premier League crown if they are able to catch the streaking Arsenal. Erling Haaland and company look a nightmare to stop, but the Toffees can have a stout defense and, with just a bit of guile and luck, could score a goal and try to hold on for dear life in a parked bus.
Prior to Saturday’s New Year's Eve match, we spoke to Saul Garcia, City fan and writer for their dedicated SB Nation page, Bitter and Blue:
RBM: Firstly, Manchester City have looked really positive this season with a slightly different bunch of players of which have been encorporated into Pep’s system thus far; what is the energy and feeling like around this club and the City supporters as the New Year beckons?
The energy around the club is buzzing and really positive. With the incorporation of Erling Haaland it feels like a new team at City after playing with effectively no real striker for a good while. Add a motivated, and now re-signed, Pep Guardiola and City feel they can compete for everything this season. For supporters, it has been a delight seeing Haaland scoring and Kevin De Bruyne really shining this season.
RBM: How remarkable has it been to witness Erling Haaland—and Kevin De Bruyne for that matter—doing what they have each managed to do regarding scoring and assisting across the first portion of this Premier League season?
It has been truly breathtaking, they combine like they have been playing together for years, and not just a few months. Both seem to have real instincts concerning each other and it has been just what Guardiola and leadership expected when they signed him.
RBM: Now, with that question out of the way, can we speak a bit about how the incoming and outgoing transfers of this summer have positioned this team differently than in years past? Are there plans for winter signings?
It has been a bit of a transition as we signed Haaland, and now World Cup champion Julian Alvarez, and it has made the rotations trickier for Pep. Still, Guardiola has done a really good job at managing that and explaining how heavy the load is this season—especially so.
For the winter, I expect no signings as the development of Rico Lewis at fullback has been so good, I don’t see City making a move until the summer, when it will likely be for a top tier midfielder (Jude or Enzo).
RBM: Who is the biggest threat to another Premier League title for the Citizens at this point in the season, and why?
It is Arsenal, they have managed a nice lead and don’t look to slow down. January will be a crucial stretch as they will be without former City star Gabriel Jesus and it will be a tight race to catch them in that time before the UCL takes stage later in the year. Arteta’s side play so good and are strong discipline wise, almost as if Pep Guardiola taught him a bit too well. So, if they are close going in to those matches, I think City can take the PL title once more.
RBM: What will this City side have to do in order to capture all of the trophies that they wish to have by the end of this campaign? How will their play differ—if at all—from what we have seen thus far across England and Europe?
Manage rotations exceptionally well—with Haaland and Alvarez we finally have a pair of killers up front and hopefully that will be the difference in finally conquering the most sought after prize for this team now, Champions League glory. For the rest, If City can keep Arsenal within arms length going in to the close of the season, I don’t see why City can’t collect three trophies this season and try for that quadruple.
RBM: How do you expect City to set up on Saturday? How will City choose to control this match and look to handle Everton, and who is a particular player that the Toffees should watch out for?
I expect a slightly rotated side from what we saw vs Leeds, so Ederson in net, back four of Lewis, Akanji, Stones and Walker. In midfield, Rodrigo, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne and front three of Phil Foden, Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez.
City will look for their traditional possession based attack though Pep has added a cool wrinkle as now when they attack the team shape turns into a 3-2-2-3 that has been an absolute hoot to watch. Haaland is the difference maker and he should be more than a handful for Everton.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
I expect a bunkered down Everton, and those usually pose problems; however, with Haaland, I expect a tidy, 2-0 win, especially considering it’s at home.
Our thanks to Saul for his time.