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Perfect 10 for City on relentless march towards another title

Everton 1 Manchester City 3

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Manchester City's Bernardo Silva scores his side's third goal against Everton. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva scores his side's third goal against Everton. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva scores his side's third goal against Everton. Photo: Getty Images

It is the perfect 10 for Manchester City. A record 10 straight wins at the start of a year and 10 points clear at the Premier League summit.

What was optimistically billed as a six-horse race for the title a few weeks ago now sees the favourites galloping clear. Pep Guardiola can already see the winner’s enclosure, the only lingering question being how far ahead he will be when crossing the line.

Everton kept the leaders concerned for 63 minutes. Then Riyad Mahrez did what he has done so often, picking out the bottom corner with a vicious, dipping left footer. By the end of the 3-1 victory, City were toying with Everton in the same way they had their Merseyside neighbours in the latter stages at Anfield two weeks ago.

Everton - who have squandered another game in hand in their bid to ignite Champions League hopes - had earlier cancelled out Phil Foden’s more fortuitous first-half goal. But this was generally defeatist football from the hosts, their side built to resist the incessant City attacks until late changes introduced more offensive qualities. That served only to allow City to complete their second-half masterclass of clinical, high-tempoed possession football.

City were too calm, too smart and too accustomed to such conservative tactics to be flustered, even when squandering a series of opportunities earlier in the second half. Once Mahrez struck, Bernardo Silva put the seal on the victory, reflecting the gulf in class “This was a big one,” Everton’s statement proclaimed when this fixture - previously scheduled for December in front of 2,000 fans - was postponed at a couple of hours notice.

Carlo Ancelotti’s line-up had a suspicious look of damage limitation as he played four centre-backs (two of them, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey, were at full-back). Although that plan did not last beyond 18 minutes when Yerry Mina pulled up injured, he was replaced by another defender, Seamus Coleman, while James Rodriguez stayed on the bench. Left-back Lucas Digne played in midfield.

Guardiola countered Everton’s defensive strategy with a team brimming with threat. Foden, Silva, Raheem Sterling, Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus were often joined by left back Joao Cancelo in what amounted to a 3-1-6 surge.

Everton’s first counter-attack in the first three minutes should have ended with more encouragement than Abdoulaye Doucoure failing to volley across the penalty area to an unmarked Richarlison.

It was an early warning there was joy to be found if the hosts escaped their own territory and passing was composed enough, City’s defence fragile when out of possession. The reassurance for Guardiola when making that mental note is how little time his side spends without the ball.

So a predictable pattern was set, City’s forwards overlapping, interchanging and keeping tactical aficionados scribbling notes when guessing as to what position they actually play. Everton pitched their tent on the edge of their own penalty area. Despite that, City were unable to worry the recalled England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford until their 32nd-minute breakthrough.

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There was an element of luck when the opening goal arrived as Mahrez’s cross was headed by Keane to Foden, and the England youngster’s drilled shot ricocheted off Coleman’s boot past Pickford.

Rather than signal the start of an evening stroll, City succumbed almost immediately, their back four not looking so secure without John Stones, and with the full-backs indulged to play so high up the pitch they were more like wide strikers. Coleman’s cross picked out Digne and when his volley struck the post, Richarlison was close enough to divert into the empty net.

Here was the abiding curiosity of football; the team built to defend exposing the vulnerability in that designed solely to attack.

There was no prospect of the pattern changing as the game progressed, City close to regaining the lead when Pickford saved from Silva five minutes into the second half. Five minutes later, Jesus prompted Guardiola to bellow in frustration after wastefully striking over the crossbar with only Pickford to beat.

Just as it was reaching the point at which City might needed something magical to restore their advantage, Mahrez duly obliged.

In the 63rd minute, he cut inside from the right and found the bottom corner with his left foot, curling strike from the edge of the penalty area. It is the kind of goal he has trademarked at City and Leicester.

Ancelotti was forced to respond, sending on Rodriguez and recent signing Josh King, but Silva blasted a third on 77 minutes and Everton’s game plan was in shreds. They will look to reignite their campaign at Anfield.

But City are back where they always seem to be at this time of the year - wondering how many of the four trophies in their sights - and how many records - will be added to a considerable collection.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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