Everton 2 Manchester City 3 match report: Edin Dzeko double sends City top and on course for coronation
Pellegrini’s side recover from Barkley’s wonder goal to clear major hurdle on road to the title
The Manchester City fans sang “we’ll fight to the end” – which suggested they feel they might need to – but while their team’s lack of intensity seems a problem, they have cleared a huge hurdle to the title.
Their grounds for optimism include the three points which mean Aston Villa's visit to the Etihad will be an academic exercise for paul Lambert's team on Wednesday, and the reaction of City's staff to the conclusion of six minutes' second half injury time said it all. Somewhere behind the lugubrious exterior of Manuel Pellegrini there might have been some punching of the air, too, though here he stuck with the usual deadpan. “It isn't finished yet,” he said.
He might well be right. The flaccid, sometimes careless nature of City's football allows Liverpool to believe that there is another twist in this narrative. They secured a mighty win with very little might - progressing back to the top of the Premier League in goal difference, despite themselves. The only players of champion class were Everton's Ross Barkley and City's Joe Hart, whose two fingertip stops saved his side.
Intensity and form don't feature on the roster of title winners, of course. Goals do. The visitors found that clinical, champion way of delivering them. “I don't think Man City carried the threat to score three,” Roberto Martinez observed, wondering how they'd managed it.
The biggest curiosity was the way the withdrawal of the match's most potent striker - Sergio Aguero - helped City most. “Having him come off from a tactical point of view made things a little easier for Manchester City,” Martinez said of the shrewd a positional shift which saw Fernandinho - rather than another striker - arrive for Aguero, with Yaya Toure pushed further forward. Everton - whom Martinez boldly sent out with a three-man defence - had been preparing for a different formation and struggled to adjust, while City acquired far more potency. Across the landscape of the next seven days Aguero may be a serious loss, though. Pellegrini said that his apparent groin strain would be assessed with a scan on Sunday.
There were ambiguous sentiments everywhere. A straw poll of ten Everton fans before the game had eight insistent that they would rather watch their team sign off from Goodison Park with a win, even if it did carry risks of ushering the championship through the open doors of Anfield. But those two dissenters would have translated to 20 per cent less of the usual rabid hostility. The place certainly seemed lacked much of its edge. It was not the cauldron that helped blow Arsenal away in the high tide mark of this club's season. Barely a chant of 'Everton.' The supporters really didn't seem to know what they wanted.
But neither did City. It was Everton in possession of the intensity and they lead because of it only 11 minutes in. An immaculate three-touch move - Leighton Baines to Steven Naismith to Ross Barkley - delivered Barkley the angle to unfurl a right-footed shot into the top right hand corner of Hart's net.
City's equaliser, within 11 minutes, came out of a sea of blandness, when Sergio Aguero took on Yaya Toure's pass, burst past Antolin Alcaraz - Martinez's weak link - and thumped in at the near post with minimal backlift before the goalkeeper could so much as shift his centre of gravity.
Everton were out early after the restart before Barkley, imperious again, powered through City's midfield and fed Naismith, who shook off Pablo Zabaleta and drew the diving intervention from Hart which Martinez described as “the save of the season.” Dzeko immediately removed some anxieties, seizing on a lack of defensive awareness in Everton to poke home from the pass Nasri put through John Stones' legs. But angst stuck to City like mist. Leighton Baines' cross from the left beyond the hour found Romelu Lukaku alone and unmarked to launch a diving header past Hart and the substitutions that followed revealed which side was on the back foot. Aleksandr Kolarov arrived for Toure, Gerard Delofeu for Phil Jagielka.
Delofeu it was who waltzed past three City defenders - Javi Garcia, the third, clutching at thin air - and forced Hart to palm another shot into the side netting expertly, in the last five minutes. The anxious whistles of the City contingent rang out as six minutes' injury time was signalled.
Martinez reflected on Barkley's talent. “I think he can offer something unique in the English camp. I don't think there us another player with the quality of Ross. He is ready,” he said.
City were reflecting on almost being home. They have won three consecutive games now but improved on that sequence only once in the last nine months. Amid the celebration there could be no certainties.
Everton (3-1-4-2): Howard; Alcaraz, Stones, Jagielka (Deulofeu, 66); McCarthy; Coleman, Barklay, Osman (McGeady, 83), Baines; Naismith, Lukaku.
Manchester City (3-1-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Touré (Kolarov, 66), Garcia; Milner, Dzeko, Nasri (Silva, 74); Aguero (Fernandinho, 28).
Referee: Lee Probert.
Man of the match: Barkley (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10
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