Verdict: Manchester City 1 Everton 2
Goals: Cahill 4 mins, Baines 19 mins for Everton. Jagielka (o.g) 72 mins for City.
So much for a merry Christmas and a happy first birthday for Roberto Mancini. The City manager took a well aimed kick at the Lucozade bottles after Everton’s second to sum up another night of frustration against the Toffees.
Rather than sitting top of the league, such a game brings back fears of whether we will finish above one of last season’s top four to secure a Champions League place. We sit third, but with our rivals now having games in hand, our position is less convincing.
It all began so brightly with the news that Carlos Tevez had withdrawn his transfer request and was committed to the club, following a meeting with Khaldoon al Mubarak. The captain was once again able to lead the team out to a warm reception from the crowd.
Mancini’s team selection saw Kolarov returned to left-back with Zabaleta winning the battle for the right-back slot. Milner replaced de Jong in central midfield as a reward for his recent efforts in that position.
After comfortably knocking the ball about in the opening minutes, to concede an early goal was a disaster. Mancini knows from last season’s experiences just how difficult to break down Everton can be when they have something to hang on to.
The softness of the goal made it particularly infuriating with Kolarov turning his back on Coleman as he crossed, and Cahill criminally being left unmarked. There was to be no such generosity from the Everton back line.
Following a clash of heads, the seemingly epic absence of Zabaleta for treatment left Mancini raging on the touchline and brought back memories of our chaotic past. With a second goal conceded, created where Zabaleta would have been, Boateng was finally set to come on when Zabaleta reappeared with a partially mummified head.
Pablo continued to be on the receiving end of some strong challenges throughout the match. The Argentine didn’t complain but nor did he offer the skill required to get behind Baines. There was a case for bringing on Boateng to give a little more skill and subtlety to our attacking on the right flank.
While it is tempting to blame conceding two soft goals on the absence of de Jong, they both came from the flanks and Nigel would have been unlikely to prevent either. He may well have had something to say about them though.
Everton are normally feisty and difficult to subdue in midfield, so it was timely of Gareth Barry to step up to the plate. Spreading the play and constantly looking to get us on the front foot, Gareth ensured de Jong wasn’t missed as much as had been feared.
Two goals behind gave us a mountain to climb against our most unforgiving of opponents and the fear of it being insurmountable was palpable. So it proved, but it could have been different as enough chances were created.
Shots rained in for a spell in the first half, and we ought to have had one back before half-time. We managed one in the second half, but it should have been two or more.
Everton’s defending saw them block 16 attempts on goal – a Premier League record this season. Tim Howard did well, but most of our shots were from distance and optimistic. There was a failure to create chances within the penalty area.
“It’s now three defeats and a draw from the four games where City have fallen behind in games this season. #mcfc”
This illustrates the current limitation of Mancini’s side. When teams defend deep, narrow and don’t allow space between the lines, we can become frustrated. It was also seen in the goalless draw at home to Birmingham. Tevez doesn’t have space to operate and we remain the only Premier League not to score a headed goal this season.
Rarely do our forwards get on the end of crosses, as balls now being played in by Kolarov are demonstrating. The case for 6′ 2” Dzeko looks ever more compelling after matches like this. We need an alternative to Tevez, and Balotelli isn’t the answer at present.
In fairness to Mancini, Silva and Yaya are now settling into the Premier League and offering more creative options, even if the Spaniard had a relatively poor game here. He had good chances to equalise at 1-0 and 2-1, and failed to get a shot on target for either.
Tevez had a shot deflected over by Howard after Balotelli hit the post, and was thwarted again by the Everton keeper in the dying minutes. Leighton Baines had earlier provided the kind of controlled finish we lacked throughout.
Anichebe’s sending off gave us added hope but changed little in Everton’s set-up. By that time were already looking to close the game out and continued to defend as resolutely as before. Likewise the sending off of Kolo Toure changed nothing and simply added to the sense of farce.
Unlike last year’s defeat, we did create chances and with improved finishing or a better final ball could have won the game. In this regard at least, progress was evident. It’s not enough mind.
“We are frustrated by the result because we hoped to be top. It was a fantastic chance but now we must re start the season. The season is long and maybe we can go to the top [later].”
As with the Carling Cup semi-final last season, and the penultimate fixture against Spurs, we haven’t been able to make the transition to a side that wins the big games. With Khaldoon al Mubarak watching from the stands, Mancini’s fury was constantly apparent.
Had this been United, Arsenal or Chelsea then they might have turned the game round. We couldn’t and this, more than the conceding of the goals, shows we have yet to become a top team.
Presented with the chance to lead the table at Christmas, the big three would most likely have taken it. We didn’t and winning important games is something Mancini needs to change.