Saturday 29 August 2015


As Everton fans left Goodison Park after watching their side get beat by Manchester City 2-0, they were in no doubt by what they had just witnessed. ‘They were awesome weren’t they,’ one fan said. ‘Quality all over the pitch,’ lamented another. ‘Aguero is boss.’ The compliments continued until reaching the car. Somebody, it seemed, had made quite an impression.

 Yet for a long period of the game their team was certainly in with a shout. This was a strong Everton side, headed up by Romelu Lukaku up top and inspired by English starlet Ross Barkley in midfield. They looked dogged and determined. It could have been a different story had Lukaku’s early goal stood, or if his free kick on the stroke of half time had been an inch or two lower. If Gareth Barry’s looping header hadn’t been cleared off the line by Vincent Kompany. The game was wide open with both sides striving for that crucial breakthrough and that made for a wonderful spectacle.

Once City broke the deadlock, there was only one outcome.

In truth, Manuel Pellegrini’s side toyed with the Toffees like a cat with a mouse. Patient, resilient and professional, the Blues never looked out of their comfort zone and remained solid with everything Everton had to offer. It was perhaps their strongest test to date: a paltry West Brom offered little threat and a below-par Chelsea seemed only too happy to roll over and have their belly tickled. 

Everton really did give it a good go, make no mistake of that. But this was a City side with their mojo well and truly back. Pellegrini went with the same starting XI as last week – if it ain’t broke – and his consistency paid dividends. His team looked comfortable throughout: threatening in possession and capable when defending. This is a team riding the crest of a wave with confidence in spades- and it shows.

Everything has just clicked. The centre half pairing of captain Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala look dependable, with full backs Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov adding to the solidarity, giving width when assisting in attack. Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, adept in interception in front of said back four, allowing the creative juices of Jesus Navas, David Silva and Raheem Sterling to flow with panache. Sergio Aguero is there to score the goals and we all know how capable he is of that.

For all the superlatives and adjectives, the crux is this: a holistic equilibrium has been struck. The balance is right. This is a team capable of soaking up the pressure and hitting on the counter with pace in abundance and flair. Sterling and Silva sing a mesmeric duet in midfield, with the 20 year old providing the assist for Kolarov to slot past Tim Howard to give City an eventual lead in the second half of the game. The pressure had been steadily building after half time, the breakthrough deserved.

A wonderfully open and engaging game meant tired legs aplenty, particularly in Everton’s defence.  So when Yaya’s delightful pass late on fell meticulously at substitute Samir Nasri’s feet, the Frenchman was only too happy to lift the ball over Howard to make it 2-0 with the cheekiest of chips. That secured City’s ninth Premier League win in a row- with Watford at the Etihad next on Saturday. A 10th would be a record breaker and rumour has it that Kevin De Bruyne’s arrival is finally imminent. Quality has been added to their squad in key areas and it’s no coincidence that City’s formidable start to the season has coincided with Kompany’s return to supreme form. 

Sitting pretty at the top of the League having conceded no goals and scored eight in three, they are not only the team to beat but the team lighting up the Premier League with exciting and entertaining football. Sterling has made a vital difference and don’t let that be underestimated: not only his partnership with Silva, but with his speed and the space he creates for his teammates to expose. He’s a distraction for the opposition’s defence; something you certainly don’t need when Yaya, Silva and Aguero are ready to exploit those gaps. The players are working for each other and look to be enjoying themselves while they’re at it. The system works. The team spirit is infectious.

It’s still a mixed bag as far as their rivals are concerned. Chelsea look to be going someway to banishing their demons after signing Pedro and their win at West Brom, but United look flat and alarmingly short of creativity and firepower following their goal-less draw at home to Newcastle, although Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick midweek against Club Brugge has gone some way to restoring faith at Old Trafford. It’s a similar scenario for both Liverpool and Arsenal after their dour 0-0 draw failed to capture anybody’s imagination. Although there’s time for those teams to catch up and for City to slip up, the early pace setters show no sign of relenting anytime soon. 

No comments: