Match Preview: Everton v Manchester City
Now wouldn’t it just be Everton if they won on Sunday.
Make no mistake, last Saturday’s result was crushing. A cup exit at the hands of a Leicester side, who, for large parts of the match didn’t look too bothered about a cup run.
Would we have liked the season to end there and then? Some have said it, some have said the season’s over, but the reality is it’s early January and we’ve got to see what we can do from here on.
Sunday’s opponents for the 1.30pm kick off at Goodison Park are 4th placed Manchester City.
On the face of it, they’re formidable. They possess attacking midfielders that most sides in Europe would be glad to call upon, a striker that for my money is the best in the Premier league and a head coach who is regarded as one of the best in the business.
On top of that Manchester City boast the 2nd best away record in the premier league this season, having mustered 21 points away from the Etihad Stadium.
That’s not to say the sky blues aren’t without their faults though and most of those come in defensive areas. City have kept just 4 clean sheets in 20 league games this season. They’ve continually chopped and changed across the back 4 as City boss Pep Guardiola has tried to find the right blend to protect his much-maligned goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo.
The potential return club captain Vincent Kompany may provide a welcome defensive boost to City, but they will be without their primary ‘dirty work’ central midfielder, Fernandinho after he was sent off in City’s previous premier league game against Burnley.
Everton new boys
For the 7th placed toffees, much of the pre-match build up will likely centre around new £20/24m signing Morgan Schneiderlin.
Announced on Thursday evening after a much-protracted transfer saga, the midfield commander is just what Ronald Koeman wanted from the day he walked in the door at Finch Farm.
Schneiderlin is a looming athletic presence in the middle, a player who’ll get stuck in and provide the team with some much-needed steel in the middle of the park. He’s a great tackler with a good range of passing and an eye for trouble, which will hopefully make him a fantastic foil for Ross Barkley or Tom Davies.
Will Schneiderlin be considered for a start against City?
Personally, given our lack of quality resources in that area, I think he will start the match. Whilst there was clearly a lack of playing time for the Everton new boy with City’s Manchester rivals this season, looking at his social media it’s been quite clear Morgan has been focusing on keeping himself fit and from his first interview it sounds like he placed a good emphasis on his conditioning whilst out of the Manchester United team.
The arrival of Schneiderlin has perhaps taken a bit of heat off another new arrival, £11m teenager Ademola Lookman. The 19-year-old is likely to be in the match day squad, but whether he’ll start or not is too tricky to call.
Initially Ronald Koeman’s comments made it sound like Lookman was signed as one for the future (rather than for use immediately) but recent quotes from the manager fuel the fire that Lookman might be used a little bit sooner:
“Ademola has good experience and everybody knows that at that level the football is more physical than the Premier League. Now he will get more experience at a higher level. He’s only 19 and we know it’s difficult for young players to come into the first team at the level of the Premier League, but he’s the type who we believe can make the step as soon as possible.”
Given the start of fellow 19-year-old Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the last premier league game as well as regular comments bemoaning a lack of productivity from Everton’s attacking players, you wouldn’t be that surprised if the new boy got a chance to show what he can do against a shakey City defensive unit.
Toffees team news
Aside from the two new signings who I expect to at least make the match day 18, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of changes after Ronald Koeman’s clear disappointment in the last Everton performance.
Maarten Stekelenberg, injured since the Liverpool defeat is back in contention and is, in my opinion, likely to start this match. The Dutchman will have fond memories of his day at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season when he saved 2 City penalties.
Defensively, everybody is fit and available, allowing Koeman the option of playing a back 3 or a back 4 depending on the system he deploys.
In midfield options are boosted not only be the signing of Schneiderlin but also the return of James McCarthy who looked to be finding some form before his mandatory hamstring injury came against our lovable neighbours.
In forward areas, the injury sustained by Dominic Calvert-Lewin against Southampton keeps him out, but everybody else is available.
Tom Cleverley (Watford) and Oumar Niasse (Hull) have both left the club on loan.
Money did buy John Stones
One narrative to this match is the first return to Goodison of former toffees defender John Stones.
The former fans favourite Barnsley-born 22-year-old signed for Everton in January 2013 and enjoyed a couple of seasons in and around the Everton first team, gaining much acclaim for his smooth ball-playing style.
The defender, publicly chased by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the summer of 2015, found his way into the England team whilst with Everton, featuring with the national team at Euro 2016.
Stones left Everton for £47.5m before the current season started, keen to work with the acclaimed City boss Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.
I personally don’t begrudge Stones the move and hope he doesn’t receive anything more than playful banter at Goodison on Sunday.
Everton played a good part in Stones’ development but truth be told the toffees needed a different sort of defender to move forwards. Ultimately he got the move he wanted and Everton got good money. There’s no complaints from me, we move on, but if some ‘friendly’ banter happens to put him off on Sunday then so be it.
One of Everton’s (not so) favourite officials takes the whistle in this game.
Mark Clattenberg still hasn’t been forgiven for the merseyside derby performance in 07/08 and consequently didn’t have a match at Goodison in over 5 years.
With a combination of skilful, nippy players and clumsy defenders (on both sides) I wouldn’t be surprised if Clattenberg made a contentious decision such as the award of a penalty.
My predictions for Sunday
I started this preview saying it would be typical of Everton to win this match.
That’s not to say it it’s going to be easy. I expect City to dominate the ball and the absence of the energetic Idrissa Gueye is sure to be felt.
I don’t think the kick off time suits Everton here, if this game was under the lights it would’ve been a different atmosphere with Clattenberg and Stones getting an earful but the Sunday early afternoon kick off is notoriously sleepy.
Back on the pitch, I feel this game will come down to how Everton defend. If the blues can shut the door, stay compact and limit City to half chances we’ll have done very well, but the reality is City’s attacking midfielders are likely to create at least two or three good chances.
The Everton defence, be it a 3 or a 4, worry me, as do both goalkeepers. The heart of the defence all have mistakes in them and to be frank, I don’t look at any Everton current defenders and think they’re especially solid.
The role of the Everton midfielders from a defensive point of view, whilst out of possession will be paramount. The defenders will need to be protected and City’s array of attacking talent will need to be closely watched throughout this match.
Going forwards the blues will feel they can get some joy. City’s flair players, as gifted as they are at attacking don’t yet possess the intensity Guardiola is looking for out of possession. If Everton can move the ball quickly, with City likely to play high up the pitch I feel Everton can get some joy in behind the City back line.
The toffees possess one of the best strikers in England and if Lukaku can get a sniff, we can be confident in his ability to hit the back of the net.
Everton will need to produce a performance similar to that against Arsenal last month to win this match. That night the blues went behind and went for it, ultimately reaping the rewards. This team should take heart from the knowledge they can beat the best teams and would do well to remember that aside from a spawny 94th minute goal against (guess who) the blues haven’t lost at Goodison Park in the premier league this season.
Given that Everton are decent at home and both sides can be poor in defence, I think we’ll get ourselves a draw from this match. Prediction 2-2.
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