Manchester City’s quest for an unprecedented quadruple continues through April and will take them to Wembley twice on consecutive weekends. The Carabao Cup finalists are now FA Cup semi-finalists and while City could pocket four trophies in a couple of months, Everton’s wait for any trophy, dating back to 1995, will continue for another year.
While they were the most stubborn opponents, there was something fitting that the pivotal goal in one of their toughest games of City’s campaign came from their prospective player of the season. Ilkay Gündogan broke the deadlock before Kevin De Bruyne added a second.
Pep Guardiola parked his policy of using a false nine like Gabriel Jesús, many times the scourge of Everton, he brought back between six changes. His number 7 was also restored. The Catalan had omitted Raheem Sterling from his three previous teams and had not even named him to the Fulham bench seven days earlier.
After a double with Gündogan, Sterling conjured the first late shot of the game. The fact that he went straight to João Virgínia gave the rookie a comfortable save to ease his entry into the game.
Everton’s third-choice goalkeeper was in the rare position of making his first two starts for the club against teams from Greater Manchester; the other was Salford City in the Carabao Cup.
One might have expected City to test the newcomer more in the early stages, but he was provided a lot of protection as he had to make a solo stop before the break. Perhaps the fact that Virgínia was required to replace the injured Jordan Pickford and Robin Olsen was a factor in Everton’s cautious approach.
Carlo Ancelotti ceded control of midfield to City, selecting just three midfielders but using a trio of center-backs to try and block his visitors’ path to goal. His game plan was based on congesting the center of the field and counterattacking.
Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin took turns picking up Fernandinho when City were in possession, as they usually did. Sure enough, they had the ball for 87% of the first quarter of the game, but Everton prevented them from doing much with it.
If Ancelotti’s forwards had to eat leftovers, that almost turned out to be profitable policy. Richarlison grabbed onto Ben Godfrey’s header and improvised an overhead kick that deflected from Zack Steffen’s goal. The American almost created problems for City, beating Calvert-Lewin on André Gomes’ pass, but firing his punt to Aymeric Laporte, who had to hastily concede a corner.
It was an illustration that, in a first half of few chances, Everton managed to exude more threat. They lined up the highest team and possessed a set piece threat and when Yerry Mina ran into Lucas Digne’s corner with a header Oleksandr Zinchenko had to clear City’s goal line.
The second half began with a pair of flashes of Phil Foden’s talent, as he dodged a crowd of defenders in the box, and a particularly misguided shot from Sterling, who hooked a volley over the bar, but also the first nervous moment of Virgínia, who missed her chance after a City corner. It was easy, but City exerted more pressure, with its most prominent captain. Fernandinho assumed greater responsibility in the advance of City, made a forceful run towards the Everton area, crossed and Sterling’s lateral effort was the first real test of Virgínia. He passed it, throwing himself to his left to open the shot.
But, as in the first half, Richarlison’s ingenuity and elusiveness meant that he offered Everton hope of a breakthrough. He directed a half volley right from the edge of the area. Fernandinho expressed his appreciation for the danger of his compatriot taking him off the ball and receiving a warning, the first of the night for City.
Guardiola sought to alter the game by introducing Riyad Mahrez and moving Foden back to midfield. He almost reaped an immediate reward. From his new position in the right interior channel, the mancuniano made a very wide shot.
Guardiola then called up De Bruyne, who duly contributed to both goals. The former was also an indication of how City’s supposedly defensive players took on more attacking roles.
Aymeric Laporte advanced the ball from behind, connected with De Bruyne and unleashed a shot that Virgínia did well to hit the crossbar. But there, crouching down to get into the goal unguarded, was Gündogan.
Then two substitutes were combined, Rodri released De Bruyne, who finished emphatically.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism