Verdict: Everton 2 Manchester City 1
Once again City managed to find a way of losing to Everton, this time having led at half-time courtesy of a Yaya Toure strike. It should have been more but unlike against West Ham we paid for our profligacy as Everton upped the tempo for a spell in the second half.
As with our last trip to Merseyside, Mancini made changes from his strongest side. Ultimately the result was the same, but this defeat could be put down to profligate finishing rather than an ill-judged selection.
In the first half it was hard to see why our record against Moyes is so bad. David Silva was at the heart of our neat passing and chances were eventually created.
After an early Silva shot, Vieira had the clearest opportunity before Yaya gave us the lead. The Ivorian ought to have extended it either side of half-time, first failing to sort out his feet from a Silva cross, then hitting a weak shot at Howard when clean through.
From then on Everton pressed harder and began sending in a succession of high balls from set-pieces. Cahill won a free-kick out of nothing, and Distin nodded in the resulting cross. Everton typically went into their dogs of war mode for a spell and a second headed goal resulted with Kompany disappointingly being beaten to a header by Osman.
Mancini’s mistake was in failing to make changes soon enough in the second half. Vieri ran out of steam as Everton upped the tempo and we needed to compete harder in midfield. When the substitutions came, there was little conviction in our attempts to find an equaliser.
“It was incredible we lost this game. We dominated in the first half and had four or five chances to score.
“But this is football. If you lose concentration, if you concede a yard to the other team, it is difficult.
“A game like today we should never lose. If we want to become a strong team, we cannot lose this game.”
While it’s frustating to lose, much of this performance was an improvement on our usual efforts against Everton and was better than that against West Ham. Once again we failed to convert our chances, and Everton punished in a way West Ham were unable to.
Dzeko justified his selection ahead of Balotelli by winning headers and linking up play intelligently. There’s less carelessness with the Bosnian than our talented Italian. Unfortunately there’s also less pace, and with Milner preferred to Johnson we looked painfully slow on the counter.
In public Mancini is playing hardball over Tevez’s fitness. The truth is that neither Balotelli or Dzeko have shown enough in the captain’s absence. If Carlos is fit enough, expect to see him emerge from the bench on Tuesday and, if that goes ok, start at Wembley. Psychologically his return could give everyone a lift.
Much of the focus prior to and, from Evertonians, during this game was on Joleon Lescott. It’s worth noting that the England international continued his good form and it was Kompany who appeared to be struggling with his emotions.
Having been at fault for the second goal and picking up a needless booking for his response to a foul on de Jong, the frustration was boiling over for Vincent. It’s to be hoped this wasn’t caused by wearing the captain’s armband.
With speculation linking us with Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell, it has to be said that neither looked particularly impressive. On one occasion when Milner showed Baines inside, the Everton player refused to go and just hit the ball with his left foot against Milner – we need better than that.
After the struggles of Kolarov and Boateng to adapt to the Premier League, it’s rumoured Mancini is looking for Premier League experience in any defensive recruits. That’s sound in theory, but whether Baines is in the class of Coentrao or Cissokho is open to debate.
Thankfully Blackpool’s draw with Spurs meant there was little damage from this result. A win against Harry Redknapp’s team will ensure fourth place. A draw will be enough if Liverpool fail to beat Fulham.
The frustration for Mancini is that victory against Everton would have enabled him to rest players in preparation for the Cup Final. At least there were lessons here about competing for 90 minutes and doing more to limit the number of high balls into the penalty area. Learn these and next Saturday could be a great day.