Verdict: Manchester City 2 Everton 0
Goals: Balotelli 68, Milner 89 for City.
City secured victory over Everton thanks to goals from substitutes Mario Balotelli and James Milner. Given the resolute defending on show and our recent struggles against David Moyes’ side, this felt like a hugely significant result.
Everton were set up much like they were in December 2008, without a striker and offering nothing but frustration to City’s attempts to gain a breakthrough. On that occasion Tim Cahill popped up to score a 90th minute winner. This time City’s superior skill and discipline eventually told, giving further credence to the idea that Roberto Mancini’s side are set for greater things.
It’s not so much Moyes’ 4-6-0 formation that grates with City fans, so much as the gamesmanship and ankle tapping tackles that go with it. When Everton’s possession stats appeared on the big screen, it was tempting to wonder how much of that was the time taken by Tim Howard’s goal-kicks.
In March 2010 Stephen Ireland’s City career was effectively ended by an unpunished tackle from behind by Heitinga and one couldn’t help but fear for David Silva in this match. When man-marker Rodwell was booked for fouling him, it was Phil Neville’s turn. A booking later and it was back to Rodwell who then had to be more careful.
It was interesting to note Silva’s response as he roamed around and started playing one-touch football before Rodwell could make a tackle. Of course Silva had the last laugh as Everton pushed players forward in the closing minutes, setting up Milner with a perfectly weighted pass.
Elsewhere in our midfield, Nasri showed a little more hunger and greater involvement than at Fulham. Aguero struggled to find space in the middle and intelligently moved wide to get involved.
The main concern was Dzeko who snatched at half-chances and struggled to make an impression. Edin doesn’t offer a great deal when we don’t have the ball and there has to be a question mark over whether he should start against Bayern.
It took a while for Barry and Yaya to adjust to the sharpness of the Everton midfield, but once they did, City gained control of the central area.
It’s interesting to compare the contrasting styles of our attacking full-backs. A couple of barnstorming runs by Richards left Everton players trailing in his wake.
Clichy on the other hand appears to glide up and down the left flank, ready to receive the ball and lay it off at any moment. Everton targetted Clichy as City’s weak link in terms of height and stationed Fellaini against him several times. Gael stood up well and Everton eventually gave up on the tactic.
The goal, when it came, was a testimony to the quality City now possess. Aguero danced along the edge of the penalty area, never giving opponents the chance to tackle. The backheel was perfect for Mario to demonstrate his technique by side-footing the ball with sufficient power to beat Tim Howard.
While Kompany and Lescott didn’t have a striker to face, they still had to be on their guard against the wiles of Cahill and Fellaini. Lescott was particularly impressive in winning all challenges with the grappling Cahill without conceding the free-kicks which are a big part of Everton’s game.
All in all it was a hugely satisfying result for Mancini and the bench looked delighted as the goals went in. They know what a difficult match this was and to come through it with three points is, along with the victory at Spurs, our best result of the season.