Manchester City lost 2-1 to Everton in the first-leg of their Capital One Cup semifinal at Goodison Park last night. In hindsight, it is hard to agree with Manuel Pellegrini’s verdict on the game, with him going on to say that his side “didn’t deserve to lose”.
City looked to repeat their exhilarating away victory against Watford last Saturday, when they came from a goal down to snatch all three points and keep themselves in touch with the current Barclays Premier League leaders, Arsenal. But, at Goodison yesterday, Roberto Martinez’s Everton were the better of the two sides over 90 minutes, with City producing another sloppy defensive display. Funes Mori and Romelu Lukaku scored the goals for the home side, while Jesus Navas gave City the all-important away goal.
What did we learn from City’s performance? Why were they not able to repeat one away victory, against the Hornets, with another, at a ground where they have done well in recent times?
Everton afforded oceans of space in midfield
City definitely started brightly here, keeping the ball well and when they lost it, winning it back quickly. Pellegrini opted for the 4-3-3 formation that had Fabian Delph, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure playing in the centre of the park. David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne formed the front three, in what was a strong City side.
In away games, the tempo at which City have played has not been good enough. In the opening ten minutes against Everton last night, they seemed to have resolved that problem. However, despite having a good spell of possession, City failed to get behind the Everton backline, and neither did they test Joel Robles. As the first half wore on, the home side started coming into the game and stretched City with good movements on and off the ball.
Now, here was the problem. Despite playing a three-man midfield that had two energetic midfielders in Delph and Fernandinho, the Toffees found it ‘too easy’ to play through City. And the reason for that was the space they were afforded by the visitors. This was a marquee pattern throughout the game.
Everton, though, stymied City really well. Muhamed Besic was in the face of the likes of Toure and Silva, who could not escape the sight of the Bosnian midfielder at any stage. Also, City could not make quick transitions as Everton did, since the home side was more cohesive in the way it harried City when there was a turnover. This led to City ceding possession on numerous times, with Toure in particular, giving the ball away on many an occasion.
Another aspect worth touching on is the way Gareth Barry was allowed to dictate tempo and pick his passes. The Englishman has been a hit at Goodison since making the move from the Etihad Stadium. And City should have known his strengths. It was baffling to see none of the City players getting close to Barry and stopping him from playing those incisive passes. The second goal conceded by City was a classic example of how much space they afforded Everton and particularly Barry, to pose problems for the visitors.
Pellegrini could have done better with his substitutions
As aforementioned, City did not get behind Everton enough to pose their defence or the goalkeeper problems. And the reason for that was the lack of pace in the City ranks, especially in the wide areas, where Silva and de Bruyne operated.
It seems like Eliaquim Mangala had to be taken off due to a hamstring injury. Martin Demichelis was the automatic choice, therefore, to replace the Frenchman at half-time. On the 52nd minute mark, Navas came in for Delph, who had a decent outing. As often has been the case, Navas’ substitution gave City the speed they lacked before. The Spaniard did not have an instant impact, but City’s tempo reached another level with his arrival. They also went to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which had Silva playing the No.10 role, behind Aguero.
From Pellegrini’s point-of-view, he is finding it difficult to find the balance to his line-ups. Navas appears to be his preferred choice when things are not going to plan. Yesterday, could he have brought in Sterling for the last 20 minutes, in place of Silva or de Bruyne? He could well have.
City could have gone to a 4-4-2, with Sterling dovetailing with Aguero, who was hugely isolated for much of the game, upfront. That was one substitution the Chilean manager could, and should, have made. But, the problem for him is who does he leave out then, of de Bruyne and Silva, who offer things that Sterling would not?
City continue to be profligate away from home
As the away side, you are not going to get a lot of chances to score. It is therefore a no-brainer to harness the chances you are afforded. Yesterday’s game was another instance of City not taking their chances.
Aguero’s miss in the second-half, in particular, was poor for a player of his ability and experience. Even in the first-half, the Argentine could have done better with his attempt, which was saved by Robles. Seconds later, Aguero’s shot was blocked by an Everton defender, but I think he just could have delayed his attempt and drawn the defender towards him to give himself a better chance.
Though Aguero had the clearest of all chances City had, to score yesterday, this pattern has been palpable during their away games over the last two months. De Bruyne failed to take his chance in the early moments of City’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal, and against Leicester City too, the Blues had chances to score in a game that finished 0-0. Away from the Etihad, they are definitely not going to get a lot of chances. It is, therefore, imperative for the Cityzens to score when they do get them.
Yesterday’s defeat could be a valuable experience for City
Who face a similar scenario of playing the first-leg of their UEFA Champions League R-16 tie against Dynamo Kyiv, away from home. There were times in the first-half of yesterday’s game, when City showed signs of not knowing how to approach a two-legged tie, with the first leg away from the Etihad.
Though the team playing the first leg away from home has a slight advantage, you still got to play well to make the most of it. And City failed to do so in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal yesterday. The positive for them, regardless of whether they progress to the finals of the competition or not, is that they can take lessons from yesterday’s game, before facing Dynamo Kyiv on the 24th of February, when they will also hopefully have Vincent Kompany back leading them.
It is a tantalising proposition for City, having lost 2-1 to Everton in the first-leg yesterday. Despite having got an away goal, they ‘ought’ to score at the Etihad Stadium in the second-leg to be played on the 27th of January, to give themselves a chance of winning the tie on away goals.