Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Kickoff: Sunday, 23rd August – 16:00 Hours, BST; 20:30 Hours, IST
Gameweek 3 of the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season, sees Manchester City travel to Goodison Park to take on an ebullient Everton side that, like their Sunday’s opponents, has made an impressive start to the campaign.
City registered an impressive and indispensable 3-0 home victory against Chelsea last weekend, playing at a tempo they seldom did last season and with plenty of desire and ruthlessness, too. This Sunday’s hosts, on the other hand, coasted to a 3-0 away victory against Ronald Koeman’s Southampton; the takeaways from the two sides’ previous results are that the attacking side of things is alive and kicking, and therefore, whichever side defends well, could put itself in a position to collect 3 points on Merseyside.
It is also worth noting that both Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Martinez were under intense pressure throughout last season – their second seasons at their respective clubs – when even the finally relegated outfits managed to pick up victories against City and Everton. The City manager in particular, was in danger of being ousted from his position because of the massive dip in form he and his side endured during the second half of the season. However, both Everton and City’s hierarchies have kept faith in their managers, with City more so than the Merseyside club, as the Chilean has also been given a huge amount of money to spend and bring in quality, squad-improving players to the Etihad, to help them get back in the title hunt this season.
Ahead of Sunday’s kickoff, how do the two sides stack up against each other? Will Martinez and Everton register their first victory against City since Pellegrini took over in 2013? What can the supporters of both the clubs and neutrals expect from the game?
All the answers and much, much more to follow…
The Toffees, as the headline of this article states, have been chock-a-block with energy and attacking dynamism in their two league fixtures, against Watford and Southampton, so far. Though Martinez’s side didn’t score a lot of goals (48) in the league last season, it was their flimsy defensive performances – Everton conceded an average of 1.3 goals per game – that impeded them from even achieving a top-half finish.
They also have had to work extremely hard in their games so far: newly-promoted Watford created an impressive 8 chances playing away from home and scored two goals against the Merseysiders who, through their incisive attacking play, managed to respond on both occasions and pick up a point. Last weekend, Saints, playing at home, created 17 chances and registered 17 attempts on goal against Everton, who were resolute and stuck to their defensive task, making 16 interceptions and 39 clearances to come away with a cleansheet subsequently.
Seeing those stats, you just wonder if Everton, presuming they continue to let their opponents create so many chances, can achieve enviable results against better sides than they have faced so far. And that is the reason why Sunday’s game will be a litmus test for Martinez and his players; City will create chances because of the wealth of attacking talent they have in their arsenal, but how you stop them from scoring, like you did to Southampton? This aspect of Everton could have a huge bearing on the game, come Sunday.
Moving on, Ross Barkley has been instrumental in his side picking 4 points from the possible six, with the Englishman scoring a couple of goals, creating 2 chances and registering an assist along the way. Another positive for Everton early on in the season, has been the way Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Kone have combined for 2 of their side’s 5 goals, with the Belgian scoring a brace – against Southampton – and registering one assist in the two games so far. In a defensive sense, Gareth Barry, the former City midfielder, has been the most successful tackler, having won 80% (4/5) of his attempted tackles; and the veteran Englishman will be key to Everton’s blueprint on Sunday. At the back, John Stones, who continues to be courted by Chelsea, and Phil Jagielka have made good starts to the campaign, but will need to be really on top of their game against the Cityzens.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, Martinez has revealed that his side does not have fresh injury concerns following last weekend’s 3-0 away victory against Koeman’s side. Therefore, Leighton Baines (Ankle), Steven Pienaar (Hamstring), Darron Gibson (Fracture Metatarsal), Tony Hibbert (Knee) and Aiden McGeady (Hamstring) will continue to be the absentees, while Kevin Mirallas, who suffered a stamp on his ankle in Everton’s first league fixture, has attained 100% fitness ahead of the game against City, meaning the Spanish manager has the option of picking a settled side.
Going into this Sunday’s game against City, Everton ought to be watertight at the back and make the visitors work hard to create chances and subsequently, score goals. And I am sure that will be their first objective, too, on Sunday. But, the home side cannot defend deep for the entire game and hope City do not play as fluently as they did against Chelsea. The hosts have enough attacking talent at their disposal, should think positive and look to attack City, that, for me, is Everton’s best chance of winning the game.
The likes of Seamus Coleman, who is one of the most explosive right-backs in the Premier League, needs to step up and put in an all-round performance; and the same applies to the Barkleys, Barrys, James McCarthys, to name a few who are expected to control the middle of the park.
City, on current form, look to not have any palpable weaknesses, but the likes of Aleksandar Kolarov could be put under pressure if Everton are clever enough to exploit that area of the pitch. This is the reason why I emphasize Coleman’s role, and that of the right-winger, possibly the returning Mirallas, who will go face-to-face with City’s left-back. The hosts may not be able to match City for physicality, like Chelsea were expected to but got a taste of their own medicine in the end, and therefore, got to harness their pacey players to pin the visitors back.
I think Everton have helped themselves and their manager by putting in two good performances and not picking up any fresh injuries; it means Martinez, on Sunday, can deploy a side that looks settled and has an understanding within the ranks – Lukaku and Kone’s, for instance – to pose a staunch challenge for last season’s runners-up.
Sunday’s visitors should be in buoyant mood after the 3-0 win against Chelsea last weekend but Vincent Kompany, talking to City TV after the game, was quick to point out that consolidation is necessary against Everton this weekend, to harness the fantastic result achieved against Mourinho’s men.
For City, more than anything, it is the spirit within their camp that will be pleasing to Pellegrini and everyone concerned with the club. The Sky Blues, when they are in the mood, are very close to irrepressible, which they were against the West Londoners who conceded all sorts of goals in one game: one that was intricately worked, a set-piece goal and a thunderbolt, to cap things off. Yes, City have scored 6 goals, but the nature of their goals, barring the very first of the season credited to David Silva, have been top draw.
Talks about City’s mentality and how they seem fired up for this season have made the headlines so far, but the results they have accrued have been down to team performances. At the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion, Yaya Toure dominated much of the game, but so did Silva, who registered an assist too; Kompany scored a goal; Wilfried Bony registered an assist for Toure’s second; Fernandinho recycled the ball very well while also taking care of his defensive duties and Sterling showed good touches, too. Against Chelsea, every City player transcended his game even more, limiting Mourinho’s side to few goal scoring chances while their dominant display was vindicated by the 18 attempts they had on Asmir Begovic’s goal. Let us not forget that Kolarov and Bacary Sagna have been up to the task as well, raising their games from last season and making vital contributions playing in their respective positions.
Pellegrini, speaking in his customary pre-match press conference yesterday, gave us an injury update that is not a good one. Yes, Fabian Delph (Hamstring) has returned to training this week, meaning he may play a part, if things go well, against Watford at home next weekend. However, Zabaleta picked up a knee ligament injury during training, and is expected to be out of action for at least a month. No other injury problems have been reported following last weekend’s game, and against Everton, you expect the Chilean to play with the same side.
City will be under pressure to get a good result against the Toffees at Goodison Park, which has not been a happy-hunting ground for them. Yes, they did win a breathtaking game by 3-2 in their title winning 2013-14 season, but that has been their solitary win in the last 5 visits to Goodison, with 3 defeats and a draw in the other 4 games. I say they will be under pressure because City were on top of their game against the Blues last weekend, and think it maybe difficult for them to repeat such a showing.
Going into Sunday’s game, City got to contend with the quartet of Barkley, Kone, Lukaku and Mirallas – who will surely pose a stringent examination of the visitors’ backline that has fared well in the two games so far. All four of them are quick across the turf and could cause problems for City on the break. Everton may not enjoy lion’s share of the possession, which is not exactly a bad thing, against an imperious City side that needs to guard against the counterattacking threat the Merseysiders will offer.
On the contrary, however, City – with players like Sergio Aguero, Sterling and Silva, who are good at going past defenders, at their disposal – will be confident of scoring goals against the prospective Everton rearguard comprising of Coleman, Stones, Jagielka and Galloway. The key to City of this season is that they have a more all-round squad capable of coming up with answers to questions their opponents could throw at them, in the Premier League. And as a result, Pellegrini’s men will be reasonably confident of achieving a win on Sunday, though as aforementioned, they may not be able to replicate the dominant display from last weekend and have to rediscover themselves once more. City will be a strong outfit regardless of whether Pellegrini makes changes in personnel or perseveres with the XI that started last Sunday.
Also, City continue to have an impressive transfer window that has now seen them bring in Nicolas Otamendi from Valencia, for a reported fee in the region of £32m (Source: Sky Sports), with the La Liga outfit selling one of their crucial players of last season to compensate for the fee (£23.8m) they were obliged to pay City once Alvaro Negredo’s loan deal became permanent on July 1, 2015. The Argentine central defender, who won 57% of his duels and scored 6 goals in 35 league appearances for Valencia last season, has become City’s 5th signing of the summer. With the Cityzens competing in 4 competitions, an extra centre-back will do them more good than bad, and Otamendi, though is not of a massive pedigree, is another one who is suited to the English game and a dominant centre-half too, like Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, who was the 27-year old’s teammate at FC Porto a couple of seasons back. Otamendi will not be playing any part in City’s trip to Everton this weekend, as confirmed by Pellegrini yesterday.
This game will be a fascinating watch for every neutral while the fans of the two clubs can expect to witness a topsy-turvy, high-scoring and breathtaking Premier League fixture that this Sunday’s clash between Everton and Manchester City promises to be. Everton need to express themselves in attack and not get adulatory by the strength and depth of the City squad. The visitors should be in a confident frame of mind, will look to engage their opponents in an open game and continue their goal scoring fettle from the opening two games.