Manchester City sealed their place in next month’s Capital One Cup final at Wembley by beating an enigmatic Everton side by 3-1 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate.
City were trailing the Merseysiders by 1-2 ahead of last night’s semifinal second leg at the Etihad Stadium. Roberto Martinez’s men reinforced their chances of reaching the Wembley final through Ross Barkley on the 18th minute, when the 22-year-old Midfielder scored a low-driven goal from outside the box to put his side ahead on the night.
It, however, proved to be only a consolation goal in the end, with the home side scoring three goals thereafter to make up for their 1-2 defeat at Goodison Park three weeks back. Fernandinho, Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero scored the goals for the home side that produced a good performance on the night. Read on, to find out the most impressive aspects about City’s Victory.
City bossed the game from the first minute to the last
Some might argue that the Cityzens needed to, if they were to reach Wembley. But then, Manuel Pellegrini’s side has started games poorly of late, and made things easier for their recent opponents. Last night, however, it was clear that they meant business with the kind of start they made.
For me, the most impressive facet of their performance was how City maintained the tempo at which they started the game, throughout. They pinned Everton deep into their own half from very early on with their wherewithal to keep possession. Not only that, City moved the ball smoothly and quickly, keeping the Toffees on their toes.
Even when there was a turnover in possession, two or three City players hounded the Everton man (Romelu Lukaku, mostly) in possession to win the ball back for the home side. City, statistically, ended the game with only 54.8% possession, which really was a result of them preparing to see out the game, after Fernando Reges came on for David Silva in the 81st minute.
Focusing too much on possession alone would not tell the entire story. City threatened the Everton goal whenever they had the ball, importantly. They had a whopping 19 attempts on goal, of which five were on target and two hit the upright. Everton were forced to make numerous clearances (25) too, as they were camped in their own box for long periods of the game, giving you a clear indication of how dominant City were on the night.
City’s overall display last night showed the gulf in class between the two sides.
City scored the equaliser and tie-clincher without Yaya Toure on the pitch
Don’t get me wrong, that is not a dig by any means at the imperious Ivorian Midfielder who has been a great servant, and continues to be, for City. But City cannot be overly reliant on Toure, who too can have his share of ordinary days. Given the sort of impact the Ivorian is capable of having on games, yesterday was another instance of him being a little anonymous and not really affecting the match positively for his team.
Trailing Everton by 2-3 on aggregate, City were in desperate need of a game-changer. And on came de Bruyne to transcend City’s attacking display to another level. Everything about the Belgian’s performance yesterday was perfect. His passes were sublime, as always, while he also took the chance created by Raheem Sterling to bring City level on aggregate.
Six minutes after scoring the goal (in the 76th minute), de Bruyne turned provider for the tie-clinching third goal of the night. It was a delicious cross from City’s right-hand-side, finding Aguero, who did really well to stay in line with the Everton defenders and then direct his header to the extreme right of Joel Robles’ goal.
To put things into perspective, it can only be a positive for City if they win games without someone of the caliber and stature of Toure, who still is an integral part of the squad, on the pitch. The fact that the victory was conjured up under high-pressure circumstances and when the stakes were so high, should make Pellegrini and his troops seriously proud.
City’s ridiculously high defensive line did not pose them any big problems, of note
City, chasing the equaliser after their 1-2 defeat in the first leg, needed to attack Everton, which also meant that their defenders were going to play near the halfway line most of the time.
We have seen this blueprint costing City massively in the past. Liverpool, when they visited the Etihad in November and comprehensively beat them by 1-4, made City pay for their high defensive line. Holding such a high defensive line while contending with fleet-footed players – Lukaku, Barkley and Gérard Deulofeu – was a gamble that had the potential to sabotage City’s ambitions again.
Early on in the first half, Deulofeu exploited Martin Demichelis’ lack of pace and nearly carved out a chance for Lukaku, only for Nicolas Otamendi to deny it with a vital interception.
Importantly for City, that was the only instance of Everton getting behind their defensive line. The Argentine central defensive partnership of Otamendi and Demichelis played really well, considering what City had to do going forward. Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy were always looking to make overlapping runs and offer attacking options for the home side, leaving Otamendi and Demichelis to do the bulk of the defensive work.
Otamendi produced a great defensive display, which was punctuated by him winning an ultra-impressive 90% of his tackles (10) in addition to three clearances and one interception. On numerous instances, he nullified the ‘Lukaku’ factor by winning the ball on the slide, with his slide tackles being absolutely spot on on all but one occasion.
Demichelis was not exactly prolific with his tackling, but the veteran defender made seven interceptions and 10 clearances that were equally important as Otamendi’s successful tackles.
To take the gamble of holding a really high defensive line (no smidgeon exaggeration), end up conceding just a goal and also restrict Everton to very few chances to score, must be really satisfying for City.
Winning yesterday’s game, and the Capital One Cup semifinal tie as a whole, is a huge fillip for City. The experience garnered yesterday could also come in handy during their knockout UEFA Champions League ties.
City chased the game well, albeit in my opinion they could have played with a little more poise at the beginning of last night’s game. Pellegrini’s substitutions were very good and made sense too. From City’s point of view, their immediate test is if they can exude consistency in the way they approach their future games, as they did against Everton last night.