Saturday 22 September 2018

City crush toothless Toffees to set up sweetest of coronations

Everton 1 Manchester City 3

Everton’s Seamus Coleman tussles for possession with Manchester City’s Leroy Sane at Goodison Park. Photo: Reuters
Everton’s Seamus Coleman tussles for possession with Manchester City’s Leroy Sane at Goodison Park. Photo: Reuters

Jim White

No wonder Manchester City's travelling hordes were singing Pep Guardiola's name at the end of this sumptuous dismantling of a pedestrian Everton side.

With the accrual of yet another three points, Guardiola has offered up his club's supporters the most delicious possibility: next Saturday they can not only win the Premier League, they can do so against their Mancunian rivals. Beating United to secure the title: it was something not even the most fervent blue would have dared dream about when their team was in League One less than two decades ago.

Everton's Michael Keane retrieves the ball after Manchester City's Raheem Sterling scores their third goal. Photo: Reuters
Everton's Michael Keane retrieves the ball after Manchester City's Raheem Sterling scores their third goal. Photo: Reuters

This victory was all the more uplifting because Guardiola had arrived at Goodison facing an odd statistical quirk: until today, Everton were the only Premier League team he had not defeated. Moreover, it was here last January that he suffered his worst defeat as a manager, losing 4-0.

Within moments of the kick off here though, Guardiola's team began to unleash their intricate passing movements as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling exchanged seemingly radar-assisted one-twos. No more than four minutes had elapsed before Aymeric Laporte, drafted in at left back, reversed a lovely pass towards the line. David Silva galloped forward, gathered the ball, and sent it fizzing to the back post, where Leroy Sane volleyed home. There is no other term for his finish, for the way he diverted the ball goalwards with a swish of his left foot, than sublime.

"So now you're gonna believe us, we're going to win the league," chanted the visiting fans. In truth, it has not taken the greatest act of faith to believe the title has been heading in the direction of the Etihad since early in the season.

What has been upped in the 14 months since Guardiola suffered his record defeat at Goodison is precision. For City everything now moves with a well-oiled certainty. Everyone knows where each other is. Space is conjured out of the tightest of circumstance. Plus these days, in Ederson, they have a goalkeeper rather than the accident waiting to happen that was Claudio Bravo.

Everton's Leighton Baines shoots from a free kick. Photo: Reuters
Everton's Leighton Baines shoots from a free kick. Photo: Reuters

For sure, Everton had chances but somehow even to demonstrate resistance was to provoke the visitors. After a Yannick Bolasie chance was squandered, City broke from the goal-kick, the ball finding its way to De Bruyne to the side of the Everton area. So many colleagues had charged forward with him, he appeared to have half a dozen purple shirts to find. He chose Gabriel Jesus, who put City two up after 13 minutes.

By now a ripple of alarm was shuddering through the stands every time City eased forwards. You could understand why. Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin were offering all the resistance of a pair of traffic cones, passed round at will.

With Guardiola watching on beaming, City were now in demonstration mode, finding space in the tightest of circumstance, moving the ball forward at pace, their pressure relentless. Silva forced Jordan Pickford to save, Sterling fired wide. In comparison, Everton looked laboured and clueless.

This was not a contest, it was a humiliation. There were empty seats appearing in the Sir Philip Carter stand as early as half-an-hour in, as Everton fans in numbers evacuated the scene of embarrassment. So at least they missed the third City goal scored before half-time, when another jet-heeled counter-attack resulted in Silva crossing for Sterling to fire home.

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus and David Silva celebrate. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus and David Silva celebrate. Photo: PA

Jurgen Klopp's eyes and ears at Goodison at least will have an idea from the first half what not to do when Liverpool play City in the Champions League quarter-final next week. Do not, for instance, allow David Silva the freedom of Stanley Park; do not sit back and hope something might happen; do not understaff your central midfield.

And as the second half began, the pattern was maintained. But the arrival of Tom Davies, replacing Rooney, offered the vaguest of hope to the crowd. On the 63rd minute he did something none of his colleagues had managed in the first half: he put in a tackle. The ball broke to Calvert Lewin, who found Bolasie on the edge of the City area. His shot squirmed past Ederson, off the post into the net.

Not that Guardiola looked alarmed about the possibility of the most unexpected of comebacks. He knew he could rely on his players to maintain possession, keep Everton at arm's length, ensure no disaster would ensue.

There was a sense of his certainty when he substituted De Bruyne to preserve his limbs for more important Merseyside appointments ahead. The Belgian received a standing ovation from the home crowd as he made his way to the dugout. At Goodison they appreciate class, even when it wears opposition colours.

Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA

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