Teams and Tactics
Perhaps with last season’s iffy defensive showings against City in mind, Martinez selection was something of a fusion of his two Scottish predecessors in the L4 hotseat.
City often do their damage down the left side and with that in mind Osman made way for Hibbert who took up a kind of quasi right back/right centre back slot with Coleman ahead of him. The out of form Barkley was also left out for Eto’o, meaning the starting eleven was the oldest Everton side to take to the field since the last month’s of Walter Smith’s coma inducing regime.
Our depleted hosts had injuries to first picks Kompany and Silva, a problem that was made worse when Aguero pulled up with a knee problem just a few minutes after the first whistle.
The first half was something of a continuation of the other awful displays we have churned out this week.
Despite having more possession, City were not exactly opening us up at will in the opening period of the half, but as has been the recurring theme of our season an individual error was to hand them the initiative. Albeit this was aided and abetted by some crass officiating.
For the second time this week an error by Gareth Barry in his own half was the trigger. Barry is usually a percentage man but his decision to play a backheel in such a dangerous area was incredibly rash and it enabled Milner to pick his pocket. The home improvements loving midfielder then exchanging passes with Toure before a challenge by Jagielka prompted Marriner to excitedly point to the spot.
With Toure scoring the resulting penalty, City were now playing with more confidence and delivering the more enterprising football of the two sides. This danger was predominantly taking place down our right flank, with the combination play of Clichy, Nasri and Toure giving Besic, Jagielka and Hibbert big problems to contend with.
City’s shot count of 11 v 2 in the first period was an indication of their dominance and our policy of adopting a low block and handing City the initiative to play 20 yards from our goal appeared brinkmanship in the extreme from Martinez.
No one enjoyed this more than Nasri – comfortably the game’s best player – who was able to drop off from central to wide areas and thread passes between full back and centre half almost at will.
Indeed, the Frenchman pretty much did to us what Silva did last season in this fixture, creating 6 key passes and comfortably making more touches (118) than any player on the pitch. Crucially, not only is he great on the ball but he also has a brain, a quality few of our midfielder’s possess.
In stark contrast we created pretty much nothing in the first half barring a couple of Mirallas pot shots.
Coleman and Baines played pretty much as high as each other on the flanks but neither had midfielders in front of them to initiate wide combinations and again everything was a bit too inward, lacking in width and generally easy for City to defend against. Most of this was due to us having no control of the ball, in fact it was our second worst display data wise in terms of both possession share and keeping hold of the ball this season.
City were less fluid in the second period albeit they still had more of the ball in our final third than we did in theirs and marginally out shot us by 8 to 7.
Their best chance had come earlier in the half and again the architect was Nasri as he worked the ball from the centre to Milner down our right side with a great long range switch. Luckily for us Pozo’s finish from Milner’s cross was matched by an excellent save with his feet from Tim Howard.
The second half from us was much improved with the catalyst being the introduction of Barkley for the ineffectual Besic in the number 8 role.
Barkley chipped in with 3 key passes himself, which was more than the rest of the team put together. and his positivity led to us having 5 more shots and 10 more dribbles than we did in the opening half.
Usually appearing as a ten or off the flank, Barkley showed signs that he could be better suited to the deeper role and he was at least willing to drive through midfield rather than make sideways passes. His drives from deep into more dangerous areas meant City’s anchor man Fernando now had a problem as he was becoming engaged by Barkley which in turn meant that Eto’o was freed of his marker and was now able to find better spaces to manoeuvre on the edge of City’s area.
Eto’o was now making things happen with his dribbling in the final third and his brilliant flick from Barry’s excellent pass was to create our best chance of the game for Lukaku. Sadly for us the Belgian’s brilliant first time volley was met by an equally astute piece of keeping by grooming obsessive bell whiff Joe Hart in the City goal.
Sadly that was pretty much it, and on the balance of play City deserved the win.
Defensively we looked fairly resolute but at the other end there was a glaring lack of incision in the final third with just 5 chances created in the whole game – our lowest figure of the season.
The context of this I guess is that we were up against the champions on their own turf who despite being under strength due to injuries had the advantage of some dire officiating by Mariner.
The bottom line is that we have 10 points fewer than we did after 15 matches last season. League wise, Bagpuss and his mutant infested gang of texans are next up a week on Monday at Goodison, and failure to beat a side without a single away point would quickly escalate the current predicament, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.