Saturday 21 April 2018

Dzeko double puts Manchester City in touching distance of title

Everton 2 Manchester City 3

Manchester City's two-goal hero Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring in the Premier League win over Everton at Goodison Park yesterday
Manchester City's two-goal hero Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring in the Premier League win over Everton at Goodison Park yesterday
Edin Dzeko scores Manchester City's second goal at Goodison Park
Edin Dzeko directs his header past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard to score for Manchester City
Sergio Aguero of Manchester City competes with James McCarthy of Everton
Everton's Leon Osman and Manchester City's Yaya Toure battle for the ball
Sergio Aguero scores Manchester City's first goal against Everton at Goodison Park yesterday
Everton's Ross Barkley celebrates scoring the opening goal at Goodison Park
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart saves Steven Naismith's attempt on goal
Sergio Aguero of Manchester City competes with John Stones of Everton

Daniel Taylor at Goodison Park

They played like a team that, barring something extraordinary, can now be thought of as champions-in-waiting. Manchester City recovered from the early setback of Ross Barkley's stunning goal.

They lost Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure to injury and – classic City – they shredded a few nerves along the way. Yet Manuel Pellegrini's side showed competitive courage to go with their obvious talent and two more wins will return the Premier League trophy to their side of Manchester.

They came so close to making a pig's ear of it against QPR on the final day two seasons ago their fans should not get overly presumptuous just yet. The opposition will be Aston Villa and West Ham United, both at home, and City have just ended Liverpool's 27-day spell on top of the league. An open-top bus parade is pencilled in for tomorrow week and the only way it will be cancelled now is if City revert back to the bad old days – Cityitis, Typical City, and all that. In fairness, there is no sign of that happening.

They had to endure a nervy last 25 minutes of normal time after Romelu Lukaka made it 3-2, plus another six minutes because of stoppages. Ultimately, though, the story of this game was the spirit they showed to recover from going behind. Aguero started the comeback after 22 minutes. Then Dzeko scored either side of half-time and City dug deep to hold off their bogey club.

City had lost on their previous four visits to Goodison. They had won only one of their last 15 games here and only 11 minutes had been played when Everton dismantled this notion that they might not be entirely fixed on the idea of winning. Roberto Martinez's team might have had only a faint chance of overhauling Arsenal in the fourth Champions League place but any talk of them rolling over was always going to be wide of the mark. A few Evertonians might have had blurred priorities bearing in mind the importance of this match across Stanley Park. Not the team.

What a goal it was from Barkley. There are not many 20-year-olds who would try a shot from the position with which Barkley sent the ball curling into the top corner of Joe Hart's net. The audacity to try the shot was one thing. Having the ability to strike the ball first-time and apply just the right amount of weight and bend was something else. Steven Naismith had laid off Leighton Baines's infield pass into Barkley's path. His shot was a peach.

Martinez was incensed 10 minutes later when Barkley stepped past Martin Demichelis and advanced into the penalty area before going down under a risky challenge from Vincent Kompany. The referee, Lee Probert, had actually made an exceedingly good call because Kompany had timed the tackle perfectly. Yet it was a heart-in-mouth moment for City and crucial to what happened next as City swept forward and the equaliser came from the next passage of play.

Aguero had already come to the touchline to complain about a recurrence of the hamstring problems that have troubled him this season, and his clinical finish inside Tim Howard's near-post will almost certainly be his final contribution to the season. Yaya Toure's pass created the opportunity and Everton had left too much space on their left. Aguero made them pay.

Aguero lasted only six more minutes. Yet Pellegrini opted against bringing on either of his substitute strikers. Instead, Fernandinho was brought on to play alongside Javi Garcia in the holding midfield positions and Toure was moved forward to operate behind Dzeko.

A striker with Aguero's gifts will always be missed but Dzeko has a convenient habit of scoring important goals for City. This was another one for the collection. The Bosnian can look careless at times and it is not too long ago that he was on the receiving end of some voluble criticism from City's crowd. He does, however, make a valuable contribution every season and his header to put City ahead was expertly delivered.

A few moments earlier, Dzeko had gone through on the right, running on to Fernandinho's pass and seemed to be caught in two minds about whether to shoot or cross. Howard saved with his legs and the ball came back out to the right. Dzeko had not stopped to feel sorry for himself, taking up a central position and reading the trajectory of James Milner's cross to pick out the bottom corner.

Pellegrini will be relieved about that moment, in the opening minute of the second half, when Barkley galloped through the middle and measured his pass to leave Naismith running clear. Hart's one-handed save was City's goalkeeper at his very best.

In the next attack, Fernandinho floated his pass to Samir Nasri, coming into the penalty area from the left. The Frenchman went outside John Stones and drove the ball across the six-yard area. Dzeko reminded us again of his ability to take up scoring positions and City had their two-goal cushion.

Perhaps they were guilty of easing up at that point. Certainly the marking was poor as Baines crossed for Lukaku to change the complexion of the game again. Yet City survived. They go top virtue of their superior goal difference and there were scenes of great jubilation from the victorious players.

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