Everton made 3 changes from the midweek cup draw against West Ham with Stones, Baines and McGeady coming in for Distin, Oviedo and Mirallas. Barkley moved inside, Naismith shifted across to the left flank and McGeady began the game from the right side.
City were without their recognised first choice spine with Kompany and Aguero only fit enough for cameos from the bench and Toure away at the African Cup of Nations. As a result the much maligned Mangala partnered Demichelis in defence, former toffee target Fernando came into midfield and Jovetic led the line with close support from Nasri, Silva and Navas.
The bulk of the first half was played in our half with City dominating possession and pinging plenty of shots. Luckily for us City’s shooting, perhaps due to the windy conditions or the personnel they had missing, was awful, recording a shooting accuracy of 17% which was the second lowest figure they have posted during Pellegrini’s reign.
Since Martinez took over our previously excellent record against City has given way to 3 successive defeats, and a failure to control spaces frequented by the likes of Nasri and Silva in between our defence and midfield lines has been the major reason. The duo were again influential here – creating 9 chances between them – and in the first half we were guilty of giving them too much space, although to be fair Besic did his best to minimise damage alongside Barry in midfield.
The Bosnian is an interesting cat. He was in the thick of the action throughout and the game showcased both his developing qualities as a key man in the goodison engine room as well as his often high risk style. No player on the pitch won as many tackles as Besic and he played a key role in trying to reduce the influence of diminutive duo Silva and Nasri.
His role off the ball was implicit given that we posted just 42% possession – the lowest of any game since Martinez took over. On the ball he also played a key role, making more passes than any Everton player and he was particularly effective in linking the right flank from Coleman to McGeady. Sadly the Irish duo both struggled, with McGeady putting in one of his ‘Peter Beagrie appreciation’ displays.
Besic can do some frankly mad stuff though, no more so than just before half time when he lost possession on the halfway line, then let silva run in behind him before going to ground with a high risk challenge in our box on the Spaniard. His recovery running is excellent, however, but he just needs to jib off some of the daft bookings he can pick up early on in games.
Going forward we were much improved on Tuesday, and whilst we didn’t carve City open with the frequency we did against Allardyce’s mob there was plenty of dynamism on show in the final third.
Much was made after the cup tie about how we played a more direct game and the data would certainly concur yesterday; we average 12% of our passes long for the season whilst against City that figure shot up to 18%. I’m not too convinced that this is a direct result of any player meeting or a tactical masterstroke by Martinez, more likely its in response to players confidence levels still being low combined with the amount of pressure City’s forwards put us under.
Lukaku has been the main beneficiary of this more direct approach and the Belgian went close with 2 efforts either side of half time. First after Besic fed Coleman down the right the Belgian steamed past Mangala only to be denied by Hart. Then after the break Barkley released Lukaku down the left and he again beasted past the hapless Mangala only to be foiled again by the City keeper. In between Coleman struck the bar, and whilst City had more chances it was the royal blues who created the better openings.
As the game entered its final stages a superb crunching challenge on Lukaku by Zabaleta was to precipitate more woe for the toffee hoards on 74 minutes. City have scored more counter attacking goals than any side in the league, so it perhaps wasn’t a big surprise that their goal would come from such a situation. As City broke up field good work from key schemers Silva and Nasri resulted in Fernandinho bundling home from close range.
Given the quality of opponent and our miserable data in terms of points taken from losing positions this season the worry was that we’d missed our opportunity to get something from the game, however for the second time in a week we showed great character to come back.
Four minutes after City’s opener another meaty challenge from Zabaleta down City’s right flank resulted in Jagielka being fouled 25 yards from goal. From the resulting centre Naismith – who in terms of goals is very much Everton’s man for the big occasion – gleefully headed home from Baines out swinging centre.
It was a deserved reward for Naismith who had been the main aerial outlet throughout and whose ability to graft and win free kicks enabled us to get further up the pitch at times when City were crushing us in terms of possession. It was our eighth set piece goal of the season – the 3rd most in the top flight behind Chelsea and West Ham – and it was also Baines 8th league assist which is the most of any defender in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
There are still plenty of things that need fixing at L4 and we often had to ride our luck here, but this was a deserved point and represented a step in the right direction for Martinez and Everton after the recent misery.