Everton boss Sean Dyche made just one change from the side that trounced Brighton 5-1 last time out with Mason Holgate starting at left-back in place of Vitalii Mykolenko. Amadou Onana remained on the bench.
Pep Guardiola roulette was in full flow with four Manchester City changes. Julian Alvarez, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte all come in replacing Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones.
The game started well for the Blues with less of the possession but lots of energy. An early corner put Everton on the front foot and the pressure caused City to be scrambling. The counter attack blueprint from Brighton was in effect again. The first twenty minutes passed with neither team getting a shot on net which would have pleased Dyche from a defensive perspective. Calvert Lewin was again the outlet pass and had a couple of good runs to keep City honest.
The first real chance fell to Calvert Lewin who broke clear and had poked the ball goalward only to have Dias put it out for a corner. That corner was met by Tarkowski who headed it back across goal only for Holgate to be unable to reach it. City had their first shot on net shortly after but Pickford was up to the task.
The game’s first goal came from the right side with Mahrez delivering the ball into Ilkay Gündogan who controlled the ball with aplomb and then flicked over his shoulder past the outstretched Pickford. It then only took 90 seconds for Gündogan to cross the ball into the path of Ehrling Haaland who headed it into the goal. City continued to push forward and the Everton defense was scrambling to keep out the third goal which they were able to do.
The second half started with Neal Maupay surprisingly taking over from Dominic Calvert Lewin. Maupay has not scored in his last 25 matches which did not bode well for a comeback. The third goal was a lovely free kick from Gündogan who curled it into the top corner. At this point, the Opta stats gave City a 100% chance of winning. How is that possible?
Conor Coady and Amadou Onana were brought on in place of Holgate and Gueye which forced a switch meant a switch to a back three. It immediately led to Everton’s first period of possession. The change of shape was making a difference and the Goodison Gang was raising their voices. Damage limitation and personal pride were critical. A corner showed that there was a chance to get score with Tarkowski’s header being denied by the bar. City had taken their foot off the gas which allowed Everton to even off the possession.
Demarai Gray joined the match in place of James Garner. Gündogan and Haaland went off with Grealish and Silva taking their places. The teams knew the game was done and the play ebbed and flowed with little excitement or passion. As Anthony Taylor blew the whistle, Everton were still outside of the relegation zone by one point and they still had a better goal difference than Leeds. It could have been better but it could have been worse.
Everton Man of the Match: Dwight McNeil
McNeil showed again that he is a dynamo who worked relentlessly. His tracking back and coverage was exemplary. In a game where a lack of possession was expected, the young midfielder pressured and harried City from start to finish.
When the defending champions arrive in town you would expect to be on the back foot. The fine line between absorbing pressure and dropping too deep is a fine one. The other factor was how committed Everton would be going forward and when they did go forward in numbers, how vulnerable would they be if City regained possession and counter attacked themselves. In the end it was the finishing quality that won it for City.
Mason Holgate was the one change today and in the early going you could sense trepidation every time he was on the ball. An early short pass back to Pickford did not ease those concerns. Riyad Mahrez was more than happy to velcro himself to the line which kept Holgate pinned back and unable to contribute to the attack. Holgate is naturally a centre back and his tendency is to collapse to the middle. The space that this created was fully accepted by Mahrez and the first goal was caused by Holgate’s inability to close down this space. Let’s hope Mykolenko will be ready for the Wolves match.
There was a lot of talk about how Manchester were going to rest some players with an eye on the second leg of the Champions League against Real Madrid. It was the cause for some optimism heading into the match. The changes were made but the outcome was never in doubt. I don’t think that Sean Dyche ever expected much from this match and any result would have been as surprising as the Brighton win. Next up is an away trip to Wolves where we can hope for a repeat of the Brighton effort. With two games to go. Two cup finals. Backs to the wall.....you get the idea. COYB!