City continue their 100% home league record against Everton
By Jack Mumford
Goals from Álvaro Negredo, Sergio Agüero and a Tim Howard own goal made it four victories from four home Premier League games for City this season as they overcame an in-form Everton side 3-1 this lunchtime.
This result improved a bad week in which City have lost both to Aston Villa and Bayern Munich. The impressive win came despite playing the last hour without inspirational captain Vincent Kompany who walked off with a suspected groin strain. Kompany was joined on the treatment table by Aleksandar Kolarov who disappeared down the tunnel midway through the second half.
Boss Manuel Pellegrini elected to stick with the same 4-4-2 formation that was so convincingly beaten by European champions Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. However, there were several changes in personnel as Pablo Zabaleta came back into the side, Joleon Lescott came in for Matija Nastasić to slot in alongside Kompany - albeit only for half an hour - and Kolarov started ahead of Gaël Clichy at left back.
James Milner and David Silva, perhaps City’s biggest miss over the last week, were brought in for Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri as the wide midfielders - although both appeared to have license to roam inside. The final change was Negredo, fresh from his superb consolation goal against Bayern, replacing Edin Džeko. Perhaps the biggest news however was that Pellegrini maintained faith with Joe Hart after the goalkeeper’s recent struggles. It proved to be a wise decision.
The game began at a furious pace with both ‘keepers being forced into early saves, Howard saving low to deny Yaya Touré after a neat passing move and Hart brilliantly preventing Romelu Lukaku after an incisive Everton break. Both sides were keeping the ball well and it was clear to see Roberto Martinez has already changed Everton’s style from the very direct, sometimes ugly style of David Moyes.
It was Everton who made the initial breakthrough after 15 minutes as a rare long ball from centre back Phil Jagielka was reached first by Lukaku who slipped through a fairly weak Lescott challenge and forced the ball home under Hart to give Everton the lead. No real blame could be attached to the under fire goalkeeper.
Fans feared it could be a long 90 minutes but the way in which City reacted set the tone for the rest of the match. Barely another minute had passed before an intricate move on the edge of the Everton box led to Touré slipping in Negredo who forced the ball home from 10 yards out to the relief of every City fan in the Etihad.
City were largely in control from this point but Everton did still have one chance in the first half. England midfielder Ross Barkley found space to cross for an offside Kevin Mirallas who headed low but had already been flagged offside. This moment was significant however as Joe Hart had no idea the flag had been raised so he produced a world class left handed save, the kind City fans have seen many of, to keep the ball out and force it wide of the goal - possibly a sign that his blip in form may be over. Regular chants of “England’s number one” demonstrated City fan’s opinion on the issue.
Other than this City dominated the rest of the half and in truth Agüero could have had a first half hat-trick. First he was presented with a one on one after an intelligently worked free kick from Fernandinho, Touré and the brilliant Silva found an unmarked Agüero 12 yards out but he somehow put it narrowly wide of the far post. As the minutes passed the passing got sharper and soon Agüero was in again but with his legs in a tangle he just couldn’t get control of the ball. Third time lucky as City came forward again, this time Silva fed Agüero who shrugged off a challenge and beat Howard emphatically from a tight angle to send City in at half time 2-1 to the good.
City had already played 11 minutes with Nastasić and Lescott controlling the game at centre back by this point after in the 34th minute Kompany had taken a stoppage in play to sit down and reluctantly signal to the bench that a change was necessary. Pellegrini said after the game “we will find out tomorrow” but the fear is that Kompany has yet another groin strain.
The second half continued in much the same style as City applied constant pressure and looked the stronger, quicker and more composed team. The only disruption to the flow was in the 58th minute when Kolarov, who had provided several dangerous crosses, and Nastasić collided heavily. Nastasić appeared at first as if he was worse off but he was allowed to continue and Kolarov was escorted down the tunnel, with Clichy being brought on to replace the Serbian.
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Agüero stepped up to take the kick and Howard guessed correctly and saved it onto the post. Luckily for City it rebounded off Howard’s back and into the goal. Both teams knew the game was over from this point and City fans were treated to some beautiful football from Silva, Negredo and Nasri, who was brought on for Agüero, before the final whistle.
Pellegrini praised the mental toughness of the side after the game, saying: “Equalising immediately was important but more important was the character, playing against Everton - the only unbeaten team in the league. After a defeat on Wednesday it was important for me to see how the players reacted after that defeat.”
City fans have been promised expansive attacking football and today we saw an exciting glimpse of the future. Now time to hope our captain is back when we return from the International break.