Friday 20 September 2019

Smooth City's attention already on summit battle

Manchester City 3 Everton 1

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson remonstrates with Everton’s Yerry Mina during yesterday’s game at the Etihad Stadium. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty
Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson remonstrates with Everton’s Yerry Mina during yesterday’s game at the Etihad Stadium. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty

Sam Wallace

For the final moments of injury time, Phil Foden got as far as standing match-ready alongside Pep Guardiola with his number being inputted into the board before the Manchester City manager decided that even two goals to the good, his team were not sufficiently in control of the game.

Foden was made to wait while they defended a corner until eventually his manager suggested the teenager take a seat and wait for next time, because nothing was going to stop his team seeing out a win as they embark on what will surely be another unbeaten run of some sort. City returned to the top of the Premier League for the time being with a victory that suggests last week at Stamford Bridge was just a temporary glitch in the unstoppable Guardiola football machine.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton scores his team's first goal. Photo: Getty
Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton scores his team's first goal. Photo: Getty

This is an elite team, defeated at Chelsea last week but virtually impossible to beat at home where they have won their last 10 games and even against a well-organised, dangerous Everton team controlled all but the last 10 minutes. There were two goals from Gabriel Jesus, his first in the league since Aug 19, and he and substitute Raheem Sterling scored headers against this giant Everton defence. They can beat you any way they choose, and back at the top of the Premier League for now, thoughts are turning to January 3.

That is when they face the league's only unbeaten team, Liverpool, and their one true rival for the title. There are four games before then, starting with Tuesday's Carabao Cup quarter-final against Leicester City, although for City it is rare to find an opponent who can live with them for an entire game.

This was by no means a bad Everton performance, give or take some errors in defence, and yet they did not have a shot on goal until Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored on 66 minutes. Guardiola sent on Kevin De Bruyne on 75 minutes for his first game since November 1 and only then, with the game ostensibly over, did Everton have a significant period of possession.

The goal within three minutes of Sterling's introduction to the game ended a week for him he will not forget for a while. Guardiola joked later that when Sterling has time to think in front of goal that is when he has "problems".

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's third. Photo: Getty
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's third. Photo: Getty

As a man who is City's top scorer with nine goals in the league, Sterling might well object to that diagnosis. He was left off the original team-sheet, a mysterious blank space and a zero where his name should have been, put down by City as a simple typo.

Certainly he looked a lot more deadly than the expensive goalscoring talent on the opposing side, Richarlison, who had a chance for Everton after 15 minutes and then again in that late period of pressure which he failed to convert.

Missed opportunities that Marco Silva was still grumbling about afterwards.

"Near perfect" was how he described the requirement for any team hoping to get something from the Etihad and although his side were never completely out of the game, they made too many mistakes in defence and squandered too much in attack.

Twice their towering centre-backs Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane and Yerry Mina allowed Jesus and Sterling to slip in between them and connect with the inch-perfect deliveries that sought out diminutive figures finding space in the area. There was much to admire in the performance of Ademola Lookman, a second-half substitute who had an impact on the game when Silva decided that it was time to take a few risks.

In his most hopeful mood, Silva would have seen his formation as one where Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman could break into space behind the City full-backs and they did on one first half occasion. But they were pushed back by a team that play football right up in your grille until there are no more backward steps to be taken.

Everton sought to turn City around swiftly with those low trajectory precise kicks of Jordan Pickford, and when it worked it was effective. But for the most part the away side were hunted and when finally they made a mistake there was a goal.

Mina's ball from deep in his own half was intercepted by Ilkay Gundogan and the ball went forward quickly to Leroy Sane and then Jesus who beat Pickford at his near post. Such swift punishment. If Pickford had an excuse for the ball going past his right hand then it was that this City team are impossible to read at the best of times.

They did get one in the end, Calvert-Lewin scoring with the first attempt on target on 66 minutes, a strange affair where City never quite cleared the ball and Digne got the ball in from the left. Calvert-Lewin had barely had a chance served up to him all day but he took this one well.

His team had already conceded again when Jesus got his second of the game, a flick of the shoulders and a header straight through Pickford from another Sane cross.

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