Everton’s unbeaten start to the season ended by Manchester City’s slick quality comeback
In a match with four goals, nine bookings, six substitutions and two blooded shirts, Everton forgot one of the oldest rules of the sport; you’re never more susceptible than when you’ve just scored.
It took Alvaro Negredo just one minute and 32 seconds to equalise Romelu Lukaku’s 15th minute low shot past Joe Hart’s right glove. With that, Manchester City built on stints of incision to add another two goals, breaking the visitors’ unbeaten start to the season. Everton – for all their slick first half counter attacking and end to end aggression – fell short of anything that might resemble a knock at this seasons’ ‘top four’ door.
With an ability and willingness after their equaliser to snap up a gear, Manuel Pellegrini and his Sky Blues staked their claim that form is temporary, class permanent. Everton’s boss on the other hand felt he’s not the first Roberto to walk out of the Etihad having had an unjust decision pitted against his sensibilities.
Everton weren’t as much in the game as trying the avoid being overrun at the point of Jon Moss’s decision to award a penalty for Seamus Coleman’s loose brush with Pablo Zabaleta in the 68th minute, with City at that point good for their 2-1 lead.
By full time, the achy edge left hanging in the blue moon air following the midweek demolition by Bayern Munich had been notably unpointed, though the auxiliary wrangle of Joe Hart’s form has a few more column inches to fill, going by the soft-hand attempt at the Lukaku goal.
From the stand, no doubt Roy Hodgson would have been disappointed that a Leighton Baines speciality or some other decisive Everton shots didn’t come forth to test the mettle of Hart, all recent sideswipes aside.
Within 20 seconds of the start, Hart was called on to smother a ball that came speeding into the right side of his penalty box. Any fluff of the England number ones’ lines with Lukaku bearing down on him, the game might have lit up brighter than a Jack Wilshere Lucky Strike. Only that immediate equaliser a quarter of an hour later did enough to deflect another error notch on Hart’s goalpost.
Caught in the crossfire of the München salvo last Wednesday, to be fair on City it is their misfortune that they’ve been thrown into Group D along with the Bavarian reds, in much the same way misfortune fell to clubs who were pitted against AC Milan in ’94 or Johan Cruyff’s Ajax of the early seventies.
Pellegrini played down the suggestion that the giving of the penalty had swung it for City. He said: “We had at least four or five clear chances to score and I don’t remember Everton having too many chances to score, so I don’t think the difference between the two teams was the penalty.”
Opening up to his own idea of early season pressure he added, “We really need the victory, we were five points down from Arsenal. More than the most important goal was the character of the team.”
In the week that Pep Guardiola said of the Pellegrini, “I would like to be like him,” the Chilean boss showed his hand and made the correct changes from the Bayern defeat to seek out against Everton a winning formula.
In all, six players were dropped from Wednesday’s starting eleven, with three of those, Nastasic, Clichy and Nasri each making substitute appearances. Curiously, there was no inclusion of Jesús Navas, who has played a full 90 minutes in the league on only two occasions, suggesting that he is not quite yet Pellegrini’s go-too man.
The jury is also out on the Brazilian Fernandinho who slipped into the midfield, left of Yaya Toure, but has yet to give hint of the form that warranted a £30millon price tag via Shakhtar Donetsk.
As in the Manchester derby, Álvaro Negredo on this evidence showed both the strike power and hunger akin to team mate Sergio Aguero, with the addition of a very direct type of football; so far nicely balanced with Argentinian’s style of playing off the shoulder of the last defender.
There is room for both in the starting eleven, and the Spanish acquisition is, if nothing else, already looking more consistent than fans’ frustration, Edin Dzeko. Just behind the front line, the rise and rise of David Silva – who more often than not is at the heart of every City attack – is proving immeasurable to City.
Everton – the Martinez way – are building the nest based around their crop of home growns. Gareth Barry’s absence due to City being his parent club, was a blow for the team. His ability to shore up pending danger was missing as Naismith, McCarty and Osman matched Milner, Silva and Touré for sweat and effort, though not in the quality of passing that can unlock defences with one wrecking ball when opponents are at their most vulnerable.
19 year old Ross Barkley is the Toffees best hope as creative designer this season, in the mould of Paul Gascoigne in his emerging years. The loan signing of Lukaku has been a godsend, as without his goals Everton would be rummaging around mid-table relying on Nikica Jelavic to find a passable run of form.
Martinez spoke at length of his team’s lack of luck, overlapped by his opinion that poor refereeing decisions, particularly Jon Moss’s failure to award his side their own penalty claim after Matija Nastasić’s first half push on Lukaku. Of Moss giving City their spot kick, he said: “The penalty is a sporting disaster. Contact doesn’t mean penalty. To give a penalty when there is none is very disappointing.”
As a manager who would never criticise his players in public, Martinez has deflected his team’s shortcomings on the big occasion with the frustrated charm offensive that’s been in his make-up since the early days at Wigan.
Though still a squad in transition, on this evidence Everton were all prepared but ill-equipped to live with City’s quality in the final third. With the exception of the Chelsea match at Goodison when they rode their luck to eke out a 1-0 win, this was the Toffees chance to make good a result on the road against genuine title contenders.
After a summer of controversy, Everton this week revealed the re-designing of their crest, reviving the club’s 75 year old Latin motto, Nil satis nisi optimum… nothing but the best is good enough. Outwith the hard luck tales of the trip to the Etihad, a special tagline addition, You’re never more susceptible than when you’ve just scored, might just work as a reminder for Martinez and his squad of the nature of this tough defeat.