Everton 0 Manchester City 2: City Dig Deep To Maintain Winning Run

Well that felt good, one of the few bogey teams left in the Premier League defeated in the end after the usual nervy 90 minutes at Goodison – I’d expect nothing less. A club record winning run, well since 1912 anyway, which is quite a long time ago by my reckoning, especially for a team with no history.

This was another stern test in a tricky start to the season – before the West Brom match, I’d have been happy with being within a point or so off the leaders after three matches, because of the tricky fixtures and the concerns about the defence and the incomplete pre-season. It has gone better than I could have imagined.

So no changes from the Chelsea game, exactly as it should have been, and as expected. Otamendi didn’t get his work permit in time for the match, but I doubt he would have started anyway, and may not next week either.

This is a game that always has me really nervous, almost as much as a derby (almost), as Everton always seem to know how to unnerve the City team, and once more they competed ferociously. For some reason the bad weather added to my nerves – always a big leveller and all that.

City though started superbly. Aguero had two shots saved well by Howard, very well in fact, and the movement was razor-sharp, and the visitors were causing havoc down the right side, exposing Everton’s young and inexperienced full-back Galloway, who wouldn’t last the half due to injury.

The problem was that City weren’t making the most of their domination. Sterling just couldn’t get on a cross from Silva after another great move, and the pessimist in me felt Everton would make City pay. Thankfully they didn’t, but they did grow into the half, and were helped by City conceding two free-kicks just outside the area. Fernandinho may well have got a touch on the ball before Lukaku skimmed the bar, but you can’t blame the referee for giving the foul. Barkley was proving to be very lively in midfield, bursting forward regularly, and City were on the back foot slightly for a while. Coleman shot wide and Hart’s gloves were stung by a Barkley shot. I was glad for the break.

Then there was the disallowed goal of course. It doesn’t merit concerted discussion, but no doubt Sky Sports News will have it on a loop for a week, and Sky even tried to freeze the deflected pass to show Lukaku onside during the match itself. Anyway, a tough call for the linesman, but he got it right, and over the season there will be a thousand wrong calls and many thousand tight calls for teams, so it doesn’t need forensic examination, the pass was a fluke anyway, the decision the correct one.

So goalless at the break, and a chance for City to regroup. Thankfully City came out strong again in the second half, and continued to pass and to press. Silva hit the bar, then Sterling beautifully laid the ball to Kolarov, who appeared offside but was played on by Jagielka, and deceived Howard to score from the narrowest of angles. A quick check with the linesman, and the knee-slide celebrations could begin.

It’s easy to blame Howard for the goal, but I’m not sure he is totally to blame. Yes there is the old adage (and a worthless one in my opinion) that you shouldn’t be beaten at your near post, and there was no angle for Kolarov to shoot if Howard had defended his line, but you can understand why he was expecting a cross, and thus adjusted his body accordingly.

With a goal in the bag, City then weathered their toughest period, Hart flapped at a cross that almost led to an equalizer, then Barry headed goal-wards and Kompany cleared off the line, though I don’t think it was going in, but instead heading for the post.

A second goal was needed to calm the nerves, and what a goal it was to seal the victory. Yaya Toure was looking up field when he nonchalantly flicked the ball over the Everton defence, and Nasri waited for the right moment to beautifully loft the ball over Howard into the net.

Before then victory should have been sealed anyway, which brings us on to Jesus Navas, the source of many a heated debate, week after week. I still love him however much he may infuriate me. And infuriate he certainly did when a defensive mix up saw him clear on the right – Aguero was free on the middle, though to be fair from the replays, he never took up the perfect position for a simple pass, but Navas dithered and dithered some more, before shooting at Howard’s face. Just imagine how good Navas would be if he had that clinical side to him, and the footballing brain to deliver the right pass in dangerous positions more often. Ifs and maybes. He was the set free down the right again, and Howard saved once more. Thankfully it didn’t matter in the end.
Navas 1st half-stats: 100% tackles won, 95% pass accuracy, 3 take-ons, 3 crosses, 2 chances created (thank you Squawka as ever).

And so much for my bemoaning of the substitutions. I worried that bringing off Aguero and Sterling and replacing them with Bony and Nasri would stop the Everton defence from being pinned back due to City’s pace, and Nasri seemed to be carrying a few pounds too, or maybe the camera angle was unflattering. Anyway, Coleman did get forward once with dangerous effect, but Nasri was to make the difference in the end.

Man of the Match? It’s always when you’re struggling to choose an individual because of the many contenders. Kompany was immense, and shows more signs of being back to his old self. Kolarov too was once more very lively down the flank and of course chipped in with a crucial goal. Mangala was great, apart from giving away a dangerous free kick after a needless foul and a stupid back heel that almost let Everton in at 1-0, but showed again he has what it takes to succeed. Together, Kompany and Mangal won all their aerial duels, keeping Lukaku in check, made 11 clearances and 8 interceptions.
As for Toure, he chipped in with the greatest assist of the season so far, but once more there can only be one winner – step forward David Silva. He was again sublime, and showed also his tougher side, getting stuck in and regularly winning back possession and fighting off physical challenges.

Sterling is still growing into his role at City, as was to be expected as he is after all 20 years old, but the difference he has had on the team without even kicking a ball is all too clear. Part of the improvement so far this season may well be attributed to City’s players being hungrier this time around, tending as we do to alternate our good seasons, but Sterling clearly brings a new dimension to our attack, and it seems clear to me that we will at some points whallop a few teams during the course of the season. His pace stretches teams immensely, especially with Navas on the opposite side, and the stats show that play is going down our left side significantly more than it did last season. He wasn’t perfect against Everton, but chipped in with an assist and also set up Silva to hit the woodwork. He was a constant threat. What’s more, he is freeing up Silva and Toure too to be more destructive, and opposition teams are faced with multiple attacking threats that often leave them powerless. He also has built up a great understanding with Kolarov already, and offers greater protection for the full back than the likes of Silva or Nasri ever would.

So job done, and top of the league. There are winnable games to come, but we should never take them for granted, history tells us that. The team look hungry though, full of desire, adding a year to the manager’s contract seems to have helped, and everyone seems keen to put last season behind them, and we can’t ask for more than that. Should De Bruyne be added to the roster, it’s a very strong line up indeed. Onwards and upwards…

And one final thought – for wearing a baseball cap on backwards in the post-match interview, I think it’s time Nasri moved on…

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