Thursday 22 February 2018

Toure determined to go in for kill and avoid last-day drama

Everton 2 Man City 3

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

Chris Bascombe

It is not becoming so much a reclaiming of the Premier League title for Manchester City as a frame-by-frame reconstruction of how they won it in 2012.

Victory at Goodison Park overturned a recent nine-point deficit, put goal difference top of the agenda heading into the final week of the season, and ensured that if City claim 86 points – the same number required two years ago – they are champions again.

Little wonder the City players exude the confidence of those who have been there, done it, and lifted the T-shirt above their head after a stoppage-time winner with the final kick of a season.

It is only that final, memorable act of that season they are trying to avoid this time. Sergio Aguero brought a replay of his hysteria-inducing winner against QPR forward by eight days, the equaliser that proved the catalyst for a victory over Everton (far less nervy than the score suggested) almost identical to the most celebrated goal in Manchester City's history.

Yaya Toure compared this win to one over Newcastle during the last title run-in, a tricky venue negotiated to ensure only a calamity at home – or a most improbable goal surge from their nearest rival – can stop them now.

"It was a similar sort of game – away against a big team who've had a great season," said Toure. "But I don't want to live through something like that again. We had QPR at home when it was almost too much for my heart. Going right to the last minute – it was unbelievable. We were dying and Aguero saved us right at the end.

"I hope this time, in these two games, we can make a difference earlier and get the wins early. Aston Villa and West Ham are coming – we need to be sharp – we need to be ready. We need to be well prepared for these games and not make it so close as last time. We definitely expect to win it – as a team at the top you always expect to win. We have worked so hard this year and if we don't win, it would be a massive disappointment for us. It will be massive if we win it, definitely bigger than two years ago, because it means we will have won two trophies."

City have mastered the art of doing what is required – a sign of champions – and although they needed timely saves from Joe Hart at both 2-1 and 3-2 up, they were never under siege. The most severe threat was their own sense of anxiety and sloppiness in possession, while Edin Dzeko's bizarre exhibition of time-wasting was the most counter-productive of measures – provoking the hitherto subdued Gwladys Street to howl for an equalising goal.

Goodison Park was not the graveyard it has been for City. Roberto Martinez experimented with his line-up, playing three centre-backs, and although Ross Barkley gave his most mature performance of the season and scored a brilliant opening goal, his defenders and 'keeper took the evening off. The pedestrian passing, lack of tempo and prolonged periods of ambivalence put one in mind of a pre-season testimonial match where defeat elicits a shrug of the shoulders rather than wags of the finger.

City will not care. Manuel Pellegrini stands on the threshold of joining the City immortals, although you would not guess it from his restraint. He receives questions with the swift-speaking, apprehensive demeanour of someone who urgently needs to be somewhere else. It is as if he would like to tell you how excited he is about winning the league but has a nagging feeling he has left on the oven or iron in his flat. "It was very important to win today but now we have to win again," was his message.

Should he win the title next week, his temperance will be lauded as admirable, a welcome antidote to Roberto Mancini's volatility. One can imagine how the Italian would have been here, arm-waving and gesticulating and screaming about conspiracies as he waited for the final whistle. Many managers would have seen this as the potentially decisive win, but Pellegrini only preaches caution. In situations such as this, his players must welcome the serenity.

If he trips up, of course, others will be asking, where is the Latin passion? On such trifling matters as a league title a whole coaching career is judged. The ways and means of a title win can be left to the historians, but there is more than one way of getting the job done. The sight of Pellegrini holding the Premier League trophy will justify the City board's contentious decision to replace their last, divisive manager.

Everyone was satisfied by full-time here, Everton secure in fifth were never going to feel too bruised by defeat, while the City backroom staff's celebrations confirmed they perceived this the most challenging of their remaining fixtures. They know from experience there is no such thing as a formality in the final week of the season. Having been previously acquainted with last-day drama, it will work to their advantage this time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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