Ronald Koeman has always been one to teach Pep Guardiola a few tricks. At Barcelona, Johan Cruyff told the young Catalan to observe the way the Dutchman operated as the defensive shield at the back of his Dream Team’s midfield. He eventually succeeded him in the role. Koeman drove a Mercedes and Guardiola a second-hand Opel in those days: that’s how the pecking order worked.
The new Everton manager might be in the younger man’s slipstream now, desperately ambitious and looking ultimately to manage Barcelona as Guardiola once did, but this was the day when he contributed once again to the younger man’s education. The lesson was about the brutal challenge of the Premier League - a division in which you can dominate, excel, express yourself and still be wounded. The panic was setting in and two penalties had come and gone before Manchester City finally found the goal that saved them against a goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg, who repelled everything they threw at the task.
The statistics told the story of City’s first half fluidity and superiority: 150 passes in the attacking third for the home side (119 successful); 25 for Everton (nine successful). The challenge, though, was to convert the dominance into chances and for at least an hour that did not happen nearly enough.
Guardiola had thrown every available resource into the effort, deploying a three-man defence and allowing Leroy Sane the full width of the pitch to mount much of their attacking intent – seemingly intuiting that he would need the full artillery to find a way through . But though the 20-year-old German was City’s outstanding performer of their first half – the one player who consistently drove at Everton and delivered effective balls in from both flanks – City struggled to for the incisive finish to top off the architecture of their performance.
Guardiola had opted to keep Sergio Aguero on the bench, with the ultimate challenge of Barcelona awaiting on Wednesday, and in his place Kelechi Iheanacho offered no offensive threat, giving the Everton defence time to focus on those other City players who were buzzing around the edges of the area. Bryan Oviedo, who had both Sane and Kevin de Bruyne attacking his channel, did most to demonstrate the new defensive muscle which Koeman has brought to his team.
City’s approach had palpably slowed when half-time arrived and they struggled for a way through the yellow wall before them. The second half was 15 minutes old when they were taught what attacking pace looked like and were stunned by it. Romelu Lukaku, until that moment a bystander in a side seemingly incapable of holding onto the ball, took on a long pass that Yannick Bolasie had flicked on, accelerated past Gael Clichy and fired beyond Claudio Bravo before the goalkeeper could blink. John Stones was the player who had made to intercept on the half way line and who found himself stranded high up the pitch.
There happened to be a defensive weak link for City exploit. On two occasions, Phil Jagielka simply did not possess the speed of response to deal with the quick feet of the forwards and he justifiably paid with penalties.
Raheem Sterling was the first to draw a poorly timed tackle out of the 34-year-old, who extended a leg which the forward toppled over on the edge of the six-yard box, two minutes before the break. Stekelenburg made his first significant contribution to what would become a big afternoon when he put out the fire, diving left to save Kevin de Bruyne’s right footed penalty.
Aguero had arrived for Iheanacho when the second penalty came. It was the Argentine whom Jagielka's trailing leg caught on 69 minutes. Aguero stepped up and Stekelenburg saved again. It was City’s fourth penalty miss from eight this season a carelessness no Premier League side can afford.
Stekelenburg was being talked of as Edwin van der Sar’s successor at Manchester United five years ago but has drifted around the edges in the past three years, barely playing for Fulham, then hardly shining on loan at Southampton last season before joining Koeman on Merseyside. The 34-year-old had two more outstanding saves to make before the day was done - palming away the shot Aguero had worked from a one-two with an outstanding David Silva and leaping to touch a 35-yard Kevin de Bruyne effort onto the post.
City had Manuel Nolito to thank for saving them from a defeat they did not deserve. It was he who leapt to meet Silva’s 72nd minute cross to equalise with a fine header. Guardiola was chasing to do a ball boy’s work as City drove to win the game. He looked desperate but the winner was beyond his side. There will be more of these tough days ahead for him as his Premier League education continues.
Manchester City (3-1-4-1-1): Bravo; Stones, Otamendi, Clichy; Fernandinho; Sane (Nolito, 71), Gundogan (Kompany, 90), Silva, Sterling; De Bruyne; Iheanacho (Aguero, 56).
Substitutes not used: Cabellero, Zabaleta, Fernando, Kolarov.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Oviedo; Gueye, Barry; Cleverley (Funes Mori, 90+1), Bolasie (Mirallas, 84), Deulofeu (McCarthy, 57); Lukaku.
Substitutes not used: Robles, Barkley, Valencia, Holgate.
Referee: M. Oliver (Northumberland)Reuse content