Tuesday 12 December 2017

Everton hold firm as City endure another night of frustration

Everton’s John Stones in action with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero: Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Everton’s John Stones in action with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero: Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff

Sam Wallace

The great Premier League title race of 2015-16 is shaping up to go right to the last day in May but for the meantime it has slowed to a dawdle yet again for Manuel Pellegrini's great array of attacking players at Manchester City, who could not summon a goal between them on another night of frustration.

Referee Roger East might have given a penalty against John Stones for what looked like a foul on Raheem Sterling with virtually the last action of the game but that would have been the young defender's only mistake of the night.

This was the first time this season that Pellegrini's team had failed to score at home in the league.

Everton had the better of the first half and then defended patiently and assiduously after the break.

Sergio Aguero is still looking for his first goal at the Etihad since November 21 and while the Argentinian explored all routes to goal, he found most well marshalled.

Victorious in the first leg of the two clubs' League Cup semi-final earlier this month, Everton will return to City on January 27 to defend that lead in the second leg. Although they were under the hammer in the second half in particular, Everton were never overrun.

In defence, Stones was excellent again, and so too Ramiro Funes Mori. Phil Jagielka started his first league game since October 24 and looked the part. In the later stages of the game City looked vulnerable, and Everton might have seized a famous win - if not entirely deserved - but they could not quite summon the moment of quality to score the goal.

It might have been a different story for City had Yaya Toure's fierce downward header not been nudged around the post by Tim Howard on 17 minutes or Kevin De Bruyne had conjured something more substantial from the ball slipped through to him by Sterling earlier.

With much of the possession, City moved slowly, against an away team that regrouped in front of them over and over again. Of the two holding midfielder it was Muhamed Besic who was exceptional alongside Gareth Barry, back on familiar ground.

It was Besic who came to the rescue when Aguero broke loose of his chains on the right side of the box on 35 minutes and threatened to shoot before he was dispossessed

The Bosnian had been excellent in front of an Everton defence that featured Stones at right-back in place of the injured Seamus Coleman and Jagielka back in the centre of defence.

There were chances for Everton on the break, although not many. Romelu Lukaku moved across the forward line and out to the wings and when he was on the ball, City had reason to be concerned. He stopped on the right side of the area on 31 minutes and crossed to the back post where Leon Osman met the ball on the full, first time and just missed.

There was another run from Gerard Deulofeu on 22 minutes which left Martin Demichelis frantically looking around for backup. The winger accelerated away to the byline and cut the ball back where Nicolas Otamendi arrived just in time to cut out the cross.

There was no David Silva in City's front four and Pellegrini's side missed the inventiveness of their chief playmaker. It was Sterling who lurked most often in the No 10 position but he found himself unable to pick the passes required to open Everton up.

De Bruyne had a quiet first half, as did Everton's Ross Barkley, who struggled to get himself among the smooth passing of his team-mates.

Stones appeared to pick up a knee problem early on in the second half and was not quite his usual fluent self. Either way, City struggled to take the chances that presented themselves. There was a Sterling shot from a De Bruyne cross from the right that fell conveniently for Howard.

Then Toure broke through after the hour and Funes Mori, who had been excellent, managed to get something on the shot and force it wide. Even so, City struggled to stretch Everton out of shape and Sterling's run from centre to right on 65 minutes was another of those when the true space to shoot and test Howard never truly presented itself.

On 72 minutes, Pellegrini substituted De Bruyne, who had rallied in the second half and created a couple of chances, and sent on Silva in his place to support Aguero and Sterling in attack.

The Englishman never stopped looking for the ball but he struggled all night to use it wisely when he was in the position to do damage to Everton.

One point does not move Everton upwards in the Premier League but it does give them hope that come the end of the month they can return to east Manchester and secure a place at Wembley.


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