Friday 9 December 2016

Everton's stern defence forces a compromise in Pep's genius

Chris Bascombe

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

Everton’s Maarten Stekelenburg saves Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty kick at the Etihad Stadium. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Everton’s Maarten Stekelenburg saves Kevin De Bruyne’s penalty kick at the Etihad Stadium. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

There are times when being a genius must be torturous for Pep Guardiola.

Man City 1 Everton 1

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Having created a Barcelona side so exquisite it could have been exhibited in the Louvre, it is rather perplexing he is trying to replicate it in Manchester.

Everton's Bryan Oviedo and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Everton's Bryan Oviedo and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

And as he returns to the Nou Camp this week it seems comically absurd that his credentials are to be judged on whether his vision can be applied at Manchester City as flawlessly as with the side that continues to flourish thanks to his legacy.

It rather feels like a private experiment - a manager with nothing to prove importing his sporting culture and sampling ours to satisfy personal fascination.

The story of how the good men of Barcelona tried to bring enlightenment to an area of Manchester will be a dinner party topic in Catalonia once Guardiola's work here is done.

But are we already seeing signs of compromise?

Everton's Phil Jagielka fouls Manchester City's Sergio Aguero which results in a penalty. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Everton's Phil Jagielka fouls Manchester City's Sergio Aguero which results in a penalty. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

The more Guardiola is warned he must evolve in England in order to succeed - it may be more accurate to argue his tactics need to regress a little in this league - the more he insists his ideals will be untouched.

Tremor

Yet in the final four minutes on Saturday, momentarily at least, it did feel like there was a tremor in the football universe.

Guardiola summoned his captain, Vincent Kompany, and sent him on as an emergency striker in pursuit of a winning goal against Everton.

Injury time became an exercise in City's defenders aiming long, diagonal balls to the Belgian with scurrying midfielders hoping to pounce on second balls.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling Everton's Yannick Bolasie battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling Everton's Yannick Bolasie battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Would Guardiola have been so emboldened to do this in the Nou Camp? Would it ever be tolerated without the waving of white handkerchiefs? Would he repeat the strategy when searching for a winner or equaliser on Wednesday night?

If so, his former charges may wonder what English football will do to Pep - force the puritanical devotee of Johan Cruyff to cherry pick from the Tony Pulis dossier?

The shock of such dark age desperation in search of a breakthrough demonstrates how Guardiola - rather like Jose Mourinho a few miles away - will forever be judged by a higher standard.

It also showed that while Guardiola's Plan A is non-negotiable, he would never have achieved so much without a diplomatic dose of flexibility with Plans B, C and D.

Depending on where you sit in the increasingly over-subscribed institute of modern football snobbery, the "Kompany as an emergency target man" option was a moment to curse, celebrate or conveniently ignore.

Those of sound mind who had seen City denied by a performance of a lifetime by Everton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg nodded in approval.

Guardiola had evidently seen the imperious Ashley Williams make one too many headed clearances.

Kompany's introduction should not have been necessary. This was one of those games where for 44 minutes it seemed a matter of when rather than if City would score.

Then they missed a penalty and gave Everton a chance to sort themselves out at half-time, after which Romelu Lukaku scored a splendid individual goal.

Point

Substitute Sergio Aguero missed another penalty and City found themselves in the improbable position of salvaging a point thanks to Nolito's header.

Like Guardiola, Ronald Koeman was a student of Cruyff but the Everton manager is no fundamentalist.

There are days to pass opponents off the park and others, such as this, when it is about the art of the last-ditch tackle and interception.

Williams was born for such occasions. "We talk about styles a lot but to me it is just football and each game differs from week to week," said Williams. "The gaffer will set out what he wants and we will try to execute it.

"I've never played in any other league but I am guessing this is very different to the others ones. I've read he (Guardiola) has said something along those lines so he obviously understands that.

"You can see within the 90 minutes both teams changed formation and shape so that shows the Premier League is one of the best in the world, with good players, good teams and good units."

Everton, like City, already possess vastly different, multiple characteristics compared to last season.

The mutual appreciation between the managers before the game was all about the Dutch and Spanish style. It was fitting that at full-time both had showed - far more importantly - they are coaches of substance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

 

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