David Moyes once said that going to Manchester City was like waging a gunfight armed with a knife but he rarely seems to lack equipment.
Taking anything away from this stadium is a feat. Only one Premier League team – Sunderland - managed it last season, only one – Arsenal – had previously done during the current hostilities. Moyes might have left with even more in his pocket had not officialdom intervened with a decision which left him questioning whether City are getting too many favours. “I don’t know how many penalties they have had in their home games. I think it’s quite a few,” he said. “If you’re going to give them goals it can’t be like that.” It was actually City’s fourth at home this season – one more than any other side. The numbers don’t add up to a conspiracy, but the penalty decision didn’t entirely add up either.
City came back into the game in a way which left Moyes happy with what he had got, though the champions head into a defining week – actively seeking Europa League qualification at Dortmund on Tuesday before Sunday’s return to Old Trafford – still lacking that cavalier spirit they possessed last winter. They have equalled last season’s 15-game unbeaten opening run but the boos which rang out on 68 minutes when Mancini removed Carlos Tevez, rather than an ineffective Edin Dzeko, for Sergio Aguero revealed that the doubt about his selections and strategies are not confined to those who write about the team.
Mancini was indignant. “I have my reasons for this. I am not stupid,” he said. “I understand the supporters: if I put on four strikers and take off four defenders they are happy. I made the decision because Everton are good from set-pieces, not because Carlos played worse than Dzeko.”
He was equally dismissive of suggestions that his players will not be allowed to discuss the Old Trafford fixture with journalists in Dortmund. “I’m not like other managers. I live in a free country where every player is free. I am used to saying what I think every player is free.” City don’t head into that game with the air of free spirits, even though their fans keep reminding us that 6-1 win “should have been ten.”
Mancini certainly knows better than to expect Moyes to grant him the distinction of being the Premier League’s Christmas number one. City’s 2-1 defeat here to Everton two years ago prevented them achieving that for the first time in 81 years and though no Premier League team has since won on City’s turf it became immediate apparent that the Everton effect would be the same as ever. Leon Osman schemed incisively and Marouane Fellani restored the sinking feeling when he stepped forward to wreak the kind of havoc he has been causing defences all season. He was lurking around the back post when Vincent Kompany’s leap to deal with Leighton Baines cross succeeded only in steering it onward in that direction. The Belgian’s header from a yard out brought a fine instinctive save from Joe Hart but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, beating Hart and Pablo Zabaleta to the rebound which he sent in with his knee for his eighth Premier League goal of the season.
Yaya Toure was operating deep and could not imbue City with momentum, while the decision to start with Dzeko didn’t work. Samir Nasri’s promising shot which hit him smack in the face was a motif for an afternoon on which the Bosnian’s greatest contribution was his fall down in the penalty area, bringing the dubious and decisive penalty.
Carlos Tevez converted – his first goal in ten appearances against Everton – and Moyes was so disgruntled that the fourth official, Anthony Taylor and a steward had to keep him from referee Lee Probert as the teams left at the interval. His fury stemmed from Taylor telling him that Leon Osman was the culprit, which seemed to be a case of mistaken identity.
City offered limited threats – Carlos Tevez dropped low into an angular header to bring Tim Howard’s best stop – but Fellaini was an enduring one. He flicked on a whipped Steven Pienaar cross before the interval which Hart threw himself at, to palm away. In the dying seconds he threatened to pounce on another rebound, after Hart parried out Nikica Jelavic’s free kick. This time Vincent Kompany shepherded the ball out of play. “They can score from set pieces. In the end we are happy,” reflected Mancini.