Today saw City take the short trip up across the M62 to Everton, one of the bogey sides for Mancini`s men. Indeed Everton have won six of their last seven meetings with City and in this term`s last meeting in December, Moyes`s men beat City 2-1 with only two shots on target. To compound the statistics going against City, Everton have only conceded seven goals in their last nine outings and City who are on for a third consecutive win, have not strung three wins together all season. Not good omens to think about before the game kicked off.
Mancini rotated the squad with Vieira, Milner and Dzeko in for Balotelli, Johnson and Barry and City kicked off right to left and were wearing their white with red and black stripe kit. Zabaleta gave a free kick away after the ref adjudged (incorrectly) that he had fouled Arteta. Everton`s resultant shot from Osman was way over Hart`s crossbar.
The opening minutes were a stalemate with City playing neat short football up pitch only for Everton to play a direct style long ball back up toward the City penalty area. The midfield formations of both sides were not being conducive to free flowing football.
The first piece of brilliance came on 9 minutes when Silva plucked a high looping pass from Kompany out of the air, left Hibbert for dead and struck a powerful left foot shot which went just wide of Howard`s far post. City were beginning to find their footing and Everton were already becoming frustrated and a number of niggly fouls by the Blues of Liverpool were creeping in.
Two minutes later a wonderful series of passes between Milner and Silva left Vieira through on goal. It would have been easier to score but he somehow contrived to shoot over the Everton bar from six yards out.
City were now beginning to knock the ball about with greater tempo and fluency and Everton were being forced to snatch at chances as they were denied time on the ball by the hard working City midfield. The attacking three of Milner, Silva and Toure were interchanging positions and Everton`s midfield was having difficulty dealing with this movement.
The first corner of the game went in favour of Everton on seventeen minutes and City easily dealt with Osman`s in-swinging ball. Three minutes later they had their third corner which saw it played short to Baines. City again dealt easily with the Everton set play and Hart had still not been tested after over twenty minutes.
The ref was once more fooled by Everton gamesmanship in the twenty second minute when Anichebe fell poleaxed to the floor when Kompany pressured him on the ball. Arteta took the shot a yard outside the City area and the ball struck Zabaleta going out for a corner which City once more dealt with easily.
City drew first blood on twenty eight minutes when Silva turned Distin leaving him for dead on the edge of the Everton box and with a neat slide rule pass found the run from Toure who took the ball in his stride and struck with fluid ease putting it into the Everton net past the despairing Howard.
Mancini`s men were closing Everton down magnificently from front to back denying them time on the ball and forcing Everton to a series of hoofs up pitch which rarely threatened the light blues defence. Even when Everton did manage to cross into the City box on thirty seven minutes it was dealt with by the towering Lescott who appeared to be having just as good a game as had done last week.
The first yellow card came on the stroke of half time as Neville stamped on Kolarov and should probably have been sent off.
To sum up the first half, City defended from front to back, Everton hoofed nearly everything up pitch, Silva pulled the strings in midfield and Lescott was simply outstanding. Oh and Phil Dowd was awful, giving an Everton free kick for nearly every fifty fifty.
Everton made a half time substitution replacing Hibbert with Beckford to give the team more presence up front, but strangely kept Arteta on the left where he had been shackled by Zabaleta and Milner.
Just two minutes into the second half, the ref gave another soft free kick which almost resulted in a goal, had Kompany not got an outstretched foot to the ball putting it out for a corner. City dealt with this and two more corners followed in quick succession. City broke quickly from the second as Silva played Toure through only for the towering midfielder to shoot straight at Howard. Dzeko almost scored with a header from the resultant corner.
Everton`s first shot on target came from Beckford on fifty two minutes when he found himself with the ball at his feet after a mix up between De Jong and Zabaleta. Fortunately for City his shot lacked power and was directed straight at Hart.
The Everton tackles were coming thick and fast but none were being punished with free kicks as the City ones were. One such ‘tackle` resulted in a long ball which Baines latched onto but again the shot was tame and straight at the keeper.
As expected, Everton had upped their effort in the early stages of the second half but the defenders and defensive midfielders seemed up to everything Everton could muster against them, and it took a nasty turn after Rodwell attempted to break both De Jong`s legs with a late challenge which resulted not only in a yellow for Rodwell but one for Kompany as he uncharacteristically lost his cool.
Dzeko should have scored on sixty minutes when City broke quickly and with Silva in a great position he opted to shoot and shot wide. Silva made his displeasure clear, feeling (I think correctly) that he was in the better position.
City`s nemesis made an appearance on sixty four minutes as Cahill replaced the yellow carded Rodwell as Everton chased the game and he was involved straight away winning a free kick on the City left. The in swinging kick found City old boy Sylvain Distin who headed the ball to Hart`s right and found the inside side netting. Game on.
City were rattled and the ref was helping by allowing Everton leeway with their heavy handed tactics and they were enjoying more of the ball as City lost their cool and couldn`t find a team mate with their clearances as they had in the first half.
Everton were carving through the City defence with ease as the seventieth minute struck and the defending was becoming desperate.
Disaster struck just two minutes later as a high hopeful ball from Neville on the City left was met by Osman`s head looping the ball over Hart and into the City net. Clearly City were struggling with the change of tactics and the increased effort shown by Everton.
It was almost three one in the seventy sixth minute had it not been for Hart`s excellent reflexes and seconds later Vieira was withdrawn for Adam Johnson. Here was the chance for one of City`s worst performers in recent weeks to prove his worth to the team.
Balotelli then entered the fray at the expense of the injured Zabaleta , with Milner moving to right back.
This was followed by some sustained pressure by City (the first of the second half), but Everton were clearly up for the challenge and dealt with each attack, and with four minutes to go Seamus Coleman replaced Anichebe as Moyes sought to shore up his defense.
With one minute to go Milner won City a corner as De Jong was replaced by Jo. Silva took the set play from Everton`s left but unfortunately, one the City players must have sneezed as Phil Dowd awarded another inexplicable free kick to Everton.
Just before the final whistle Beckford went down whilst pulling Kompany`s shirt and won another free kick from the seemingly ‘scouse friendly` Dowd. As the free kick was taken, a huge cheer went up as the final whistle blew and City were left with more work to do at home with a ‘Champions League` decider against Spurs next week.
To sum up, this was a game of two halves and City only have themselves to blame for not capitalising on their chances in the first half. Everton came out with more desire in the second half and Mancini did not adapt to the change in Moyes`s tactics. Oh and Everton did have a little help from a friend in the shape of Phil Dowd who made a number of inexplicable decisions and should have given Rodwell a straight red.
Joe Hart – 6
Positioning could have been better for both goals and his kicking was once again suspect. Didn’t have much to do other than the goals.
Zabaleta – 7
Kept Arteta shackled in the first half and was subject to some bruising tackles. Attacked and defended well and rarely made a mistake.
Kompany – 7
Lost his cool after the woeful tackle by Rodwell on his mate De Jong. Made a decisive tackle to stop Everton scoring a third.
Lescott – 7.5
Continued his good form despite the boos of the Everton crowd (get over it….its a step up coming to City). Everton players seemed to collapse when Lescott came near.
Kolarov – 5.5
Poor showing again. Too slow and gets caught out of position far too often. Doesn’t look up to the pace of the game. Let’s hope he is better next season (if he is still here).
De Jong – 7.5
Got stuck in and marshalled the midfield in the first half. Was subjected to some horror treatment in the second half and was over run as Toure and Vieira tired.
Vieira – 6
Played well in the first half but tired in the second half. Should have been replaced earlier in my opinion as City were being over run.
Toure – 7
Scored a goal and ran his heart out first half. Profligate in front of goal as he should have put City two up.
Silva – 8
City’s best player and needs more protection from his team mates. Tore strips off Everton in the first half and again suffered from Mancini’s inability to adapt early in the second half.
Milner – 7
Looked better than Johnson on the right and offered more both going forward and defensively. Showed intelligence and work rate. Ended up playing at right back.
Dzeko – 6
Pulled defenders out of position which helped with the first goal but still has a poor first touch and lacks the strength and aggression needed.
Balotelli – 6
Chased every ball but bizarrely didn’t get on the pitch until the last ten minutes.
Johnson – Came on too late.
Came on too late to mark and was once more invisible which is unusual as he usually plays well as sub.
Came on too late to mark…enough said.
Roberto Mancini – 6
ad the lions share in the first half but seemed unable or unwilling to adapt in the second half. Didn’t any of the coaching staff suggest the need to change as we had clearly couldn’t cope with the change in tactics. I did nearly add half a point for the fracas with noxious Neville after the final whistle.
David Moyes – 8
hanged things at half time and clearly this won Everton the game. Showed why Everton are City’s bogey team.
I don’t normally comment on ref’s but this was a poor showing from Mr Dowd. Rodwell should have gone, Neville was lucky to stay on after a stamp and bought every theatrical dive and pirouette made by an Everton player.