Everton v Manchester City. The Everton Forum preview

Just as the blues had stumbled into something that vaguely resembled momentum, the international break reared it’s ugly head to grind things to a halt for a fortnight.

Now with the 40 points on the board, the question I have is: do the players and management really want Everton to try and get 7th place so we can enter Europe via the backdoor, or,  will it just be a case of ‘we’re safe now, we don’t want to get injured ahead of the summer so let’s just coast our way through these last 7 games’ ?

If I’m honest, with the way the season has gone, I feel it’ll probably be the latter.

We’ve got 2 very difficult matches coming up next and if we lose both (which, let’s be honest, isn’t beyond the realms of possibility) I just can’t see the players pumping themselves back up 1 more big push over the final 5 matches. The proverbial Flip-flops will come out and with teams to play who desperately need points for survival, I wouldn’t rule out more in the way of disappointing defeats to poor sides.

Still, I’d like to think this group of players would like to prove a point or two after a disappointing campaign, so who better to do that against than the Champions elect and our (not so) loveable neighbours?

Anywa, first up, it’s Manchester City at Goodison Park on Saturday at 5.30pm (live on Liverpool TV, err, I mean BT Sports).

City 

Looking back, it’s quite sad to think that Everton’s season, which promised so much last summer when Farhad Moshiri wielded his cheque book so freely, basically peaked against Manchester City back on the 18th of August 2017.

Wayne Rooney’s 35th minute goal in our second league game of the season put the blues ahead at the Etihad Stadium and with City already a man light following Kyle Walker’s early bath, I think we all thought a memorable victory was coming our way.

Yet, we retreated deeper and deeper as the match went on and ultimately Ronald Koeman’s men couldn’t hold on. Raheem Sterling volleyed in an 82nd minute equaliser and really, it’s safe to say it’s been all downhill from there for Everton this season.

City, on the other hand, went from strength to strength after that match as an incredible winning run followed, with Pep Guardiola’s side sweeping aside all comers, playing an eye-catching brand of football that opposition teams simply couldn’t handle.

That winning run went on and on for more than 4 months until New Year’s eve, when a weary City team couldn’t break down a combative Crystal Palace team at Selhurst Park.

That 0-0 (still City’s lone failure to score after 30 league matches), began the Mancunians only blip of the season so far as within a month of that they’d lost their first (and only) league game of the campaign so far and also suffered a shock FA Cup defeat at the hands of League 1 Wigan.

Since then though, it’s been back on the horse for Pep and his charges, with the League Cup already safely stowed in the cabinet, Champions League progression ongoing and league form maintained, having dropped just the 2 points away at Burnley since that sole defeat in January.

All of which means the sky blues arrive at Goodison Park a staggering 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with only 8 matches remaining.

Looking specifically at City away from home, they’ve won 38 points, having only dropped points in 3 of their 15 away matches and what’s more, they’ve scored away 34 goals, whilst only conceding 10 (with 4 of those coming in 1 match).

In terms of recent form… City are behind only Spurs in the form table over 10 matches having won 23 points and over a shorter period of 6 matches, City top the form table with 16 points.

Given the amount of media coverage they get, most readers will be familiar with City’s playing style under Pep Guardiola but for those who live under a rock, they play a fluid passing game which revolves primarily around keeping the ball for long periods.

Typically City will line up in a 4-3-3 formation, but you’ll notice their players are given a lot of freedom to find spaces in which they can receive and then pass the ball to maintain possession. From the keeper to the striker, their players are all very comfortable with the ball at their feet, as is reflected by the fact City have achieved an average of 66% ball possession this season (with a league-high average of 694 short passes completed per match).

Technically gifted midfield players such as David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gungogan and Bernado Silva are excellent when it comes to finding defence-splitting passes, so usually opposition teams will look to combat this by congesting the space between the ball and the defensive goal.

The way City combat this is by increasing the tempo, moving the ball quickly and accurately, from side-to-side as they look for somebody among the congested opposition defence to switch off, allowing one of their nippy forwards into the space where they can do some damage. Should that fail, City will look to win fouls around the penalty area, where their numerous dead-ball specialists can either shoot or deliver into the area with great accuracy.

Typically, when City have the ball, their full backs either come into the central midfield area (allowing all of the midfield to attack/the central defenders to roam forwards) or they’ll offer themselves wide to try and get to the byeline, where they can often be the spare man.

Should an opposition team look to take the game to City by pressing, their midfield players are usually that good on the ball, that they’ll evade the press and get the ball to their dangerous, pacey forwards such as Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero who can cause havoc.

While in previous seasons, City have been a side prone to defensive errors, that hasn’t been the case this season as they currently boast the best defence in the Premier League with just 20 goals conceded in 30 matches – proving, if the opposition can’t get the ball, they can’t score with it.

In those rare moments they don’t have the ball, we’ll see City operate a high press to try and get it back, which Pep Guardiola demands from all of his attacking players in order to try and force mistakes.

It’s a style of play is very hard to play against when operated correctly. But, one that requires 3 key (and expensive) elements; a team of technical ball-playing footballers who all enjoy having the ball at their feet and can accurately find their team mates, a team of hard-workers who are fit enough to press in packs to get the ball back and at least 6 or 7 attacking players in the squad with a genuine cutting-edge in the final third.

If any of those 3 elements are missing in any one game, City can struggle, but right now, having played so well this season, they’re so fine-tuned it’s hard to see a sudden off-day.

However, one potential leveller that Everton are likely to have in their favour over the next two matches is the fact that both opposition sides have a huge Champions League Quarter final tie to think about within days of their trip to Goodison.

Obviously, Manchester City of 2018 don’t have ‘weak’ teams so I certainly don’t expect a rollover job (and let’s face it, most of their ‘squad players’ walk into our first team) but with a lead of 16 points already propping them up nicely (with just a possible 24 points remaining) and a week’s match preparation disrupted by the international break, I can see Guardiola employing a degree of rotation for this match ahead of his priority, which surely has to be Wednesday night.

In terms of the City team, It’s impossible to know exactly what Pep is thinking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something like the below:


Which would mean the likes of Kompany, Otamendi, Delph, Walker, David Silva, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero are all kept nice and fresh for Anfield on Wednesday.

Of course, the above is still a very good side (and let’s face it, we’ve seen Everton lose to much worse this season) but, it could just offer us a glimmer of hope beyond what we’d usually have against such a fantastic team.

The Blues

Contrary to Popular (BT Sport) belief, Everton will be involved in this football match.

However, before I get onto the Everton approach to Man City, I need to mention that last time out Everton actually won an away game!

The blues might not have been brilliant on the day, but with an away record like ours, I think we need to take the win with both hands and focus on the positives.

Yes, Stoke aren’t great and they had ten men for an hour but, trust me when I write, teams still won’t be queuing up to go to there in a snow storm.

What I liked about that match wasn’t so much the way we played because it was clearly difficult to get going out there in poor conditions, but the fact for once, we showed some resilience away from home. I think we all thought ‘here we go again’ when we gave up a sloppy equaliser, but we went up the other end and promptly put it right.

It was the third consecutive Everton match that featured a sending-off, but more encouragingly, the third consecutive match our new Turkish hero Cenk Tosun found the back of the net.

Four goals in his past three games and all of them typical number 9 strikes; 2 towering headers, a poacher’s finish and a sharp snap-shot in the area.

I don’t know about you, but it warms my heart to see an Everton striker scoring proper number 9 goals. Whether it’s Bob Latchford, Andy Gray or Duncan Ferguson, I think we’re a group of fans who’ve grown up idolising competitive and traditional number 9’s.

Obviously, Cenk has a good while to go before he can be spoken of in the same breath as those, but slowly and surely he seems to be finding his feet in England and the goals are now beginning to flow for the lad. I’m happy for him.

Whereas a few weeks ago, we were all wondering whether he’s another dud and asking ourselves when he would be afforded another opportunity to show his worth, Cenk’s selection is now set in stone with the likes of Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin fighting for their opportunities from the substitutes bench.

Can Cenk score against Manchester City? It’s certainly no formality, but I believe he can.

The problem is just going to be getting quality service into him in the penalty area against a team who control the football as well as any do in world football.

The likes of Yannick Bolasie and Theo Walcott, who have both stepped up as our creative outlets in recent weeks, will need to be at their best, if selected.

Without question, both have the pace and the ability to damage Manchester City, but they can be too prone to making the wrong decisions at key moments. If they can keep things simple and don’t overcomplicate their play, I’m sure they can create at least two or three chances for blue shirts over the course of the match.

Behind that front three, the loss of Idrissa Gana Gueye to a thigh injury looks set to afford everybody’s favourite Frenchman, Morgan Schneiderlin yet another opportunity as part of a midfield 3. I’m sure plenty would rather see Beni Baningime given a chance, but with opposition of this calibre, it’s hard to see Sam Allardyce sharing that opinion.

Schneiderlin seems likely to anchor the midfield, while Tom Davies (scorer of that fantastic goal in this fixture last season) closes down for 90 minutes and Wayne Rooney tries to use the ball as efficiently as he can.

The back 4 of Coleman, Keane, Jagielka and Baines seems likely to continue and you’d like to think that with the 4 of them having at least a week back at Finch Farm (presuming Seamus came straight back after Friday’s lone Republic of Ireland friendly), they’ll have been working hard on a way to stop Manchester City’s array of clever forwards.

The other option that Sam Allardyce might look at for this match is a back 3, which would see Ramiro Funes Mori entering the fray on the left side of the defensive trio.

I’m sure plenty will shudder if they see it named, as the last time we saw it Everton conceded 4 goals in about 35 minutes at Arsenal, however it should be said it was this system we played to defeat Manchester City 4-0 last season and our defensive options available for Saturday are much better suited to a back 3 than those deployed at Arsenal.

We know Jagielka is better than Williams, we know Funes Mori can play left sided centre half in a 3, we know Coleman is an excellent wing back and Leighton Baines, despite being on the decline, still isn’t half as bad as Cuco Martina.

If Allardyce was to go with a back 3, I suspect we’d see one of the wide men miss out (probably Yannick Bolasie), so it would be a 3-5-2 formation with Theo Walcott providing the main attacking support, playing off Cenk Tosun.

Personally, I think playing the additional pacey attacking player would give City more to worry about, so I’d stick with the 4-3-3 that’s won the last couple of games but, it’s impossible to know exactly what Allardyce is thinking, especially as he’ll without 2 of his key men in Idrissa Gueye and Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Whether it’s a back 3 or a back 4, I think it’s likely we will see an Everton side sit deep, crowd our half of the pitch and try to take a point. Sometimes it can work (like against Chelsea before Christmas) but other times you invite good teams onto you and they simply rip you apart (Arsenal in January).

If the blues do sit deep, the key for Everton will be keeping defensively solid whilst packing a punch at the other end. If Everton players make defensive errors, whether that’s taking undue risks, losing their man, not closing a man down or allowing a cross, this City team (regardless of rotation) will punish us.

My main worry for the match lies in midfield, where I feel the blues could really struggle to get a grip of the game. Wayne Rooney has been good of late but City’s midfielders are a whole other level, Schneiderlin is at league 2 standard this season and Tom Davies often struggles against the better teams.

If the Everton midfield lose the battle like I worry they will, we’ll struggle to even get our forwards into the game and it’ll probably become a question of firstly, ‘when not if?’ followed by ‘how many?’.

Whichever method the manager chooses, I suspect we’ll see a substitutes bench that isn’t loaded with quality options but consists of Dominic Calvert-Lewin (scorer for England u21’s on Tuesday), Oumar Niasse, Nikola Vlasic (scorer of 2 for Croatia u21’s on Tuesday) and back from the dead, Davy Klaassen.

Unfortunately, Mason Holgate picked up an injury on international duty so won’t be available, but on the bright side, serial clown and the player I hope is first out of the door in the summer, Ashley Williams remains suspended – *insert celebratory .gif here*

Regardless of the team Sam Allardyce selects, you’d think this will be a very difficult game for a frustratingly uninspiring and inconsistent Everton team.

City have won 26 games out of 30 this season, with only 3 draws and 1 defeat. They’re an outstanding side who are going to win the league with ease and nobody in their right mind could argue that they don’t deserve to.

However, let’s not forget, Saturday should be tough for City as well. As poor as Everton have been this season, we should arrive here with some confidence having won back-to-back games and we still remain one of the league’s better home teams. Plus, for whatever reason, Goodison Park just isn’t a happy hunting ground for Manchester City.

I don’t know why, but the blues tend to raise their game when City roll in. With a well-oiled late kick off crowd (who hopefully make things hostile) and Wednesday looming large on the City horizon, this could just prove to be a trickier game than Guardiola’s men expected.

Or at least that’s my hope. On the other hand, it could just just as easily be a 0-3 demolition job and I don’t think anybody would be that surprised.

The referee for this one is Paul Tierney.

He’s yet to take charge of Everton this season but if you want something to clutch straws with, only 9% of his matches refereed this season have resulted in an away win.

Perhaps a bigger positive omen to end on though is the fact Pep Guardiola has a worse managerial record against Everton than any other opposition side he’s come up against in his career, as despite having 3 matches against us, he’s yet to taste victory.

So that’ll do for this one, here’s hoping we remain Pep’s bogey team and Guardiola’s Everton woes continue.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and from everybody at The Everton Forum, have a fantastic Easter weekend!

COYB!!

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If you want more of my Everton ramblings, I’m @bluerinse on TEF or @gigHaWatt on twitter. I’m always happy to discuss the blues with other like-minded sufferers.

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