Everton welcome Manchester City to Goodison Park on Saturday evening in a Premier League clash which could have major repercussions in the title race.
While Everton’s own end-of-season pursuits have dove-tailed after Arsenal opened up a four point gap in the hunt for Champions League qualification, City have been handed back the initiative in the race for first place.
Liverpool’s first loss in 11 games at the hands of Chelsea last week meant that City will win their second title in three years should they win their remaining three games.
But City won’t need reminding of their recent record at Goodison Park, with the Toffees winning all of the last four meetings on home soil. Manuel Pellegrini might be aware that his side have only won once at L4 in their last 15 visits but with the title now in their hands, the Chilean will be hoping to make history of his own.
Anything but three points for City will cause the title pendulum to swing back in Liverpool’s favour prompting mass interrogations from Reds on Twitter as to who Toffees will be supporting on Saturday. While Roberto Martinez has backed his team to perform with integrity, saying that “…helping other teams (…) is not the way we do our work”, this one fan has summed up the mood likely to permeate the terraces come 5pm:
I feel for Ric Wee, chose the two worst matches to go to, first was postponed & now he's gonna be the only one supporting Everton vs City
— Brad (@bradyates_) May 2, 2014
In his Friday press conference, Martinez said he is confident captain Phil Jagielka will return for his first appearance since the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in February. Sylvain Distin will be assessed prior to the game but it is likely John Stones will keep his place at centre-half.
Leighton Baines is expected to shake off the knee injury which saw him withdrawn in the dying minutes at Southampton last weekend, but loan-signing Gareth Barry will miss out against his parent club.
Manchester City have become one of the power-houses in English football thanks to the injection of Abu Dhabi cash in 2008. A club that shared so much in common with Everton prior to Sheikh Mansour’s take-over (albeit dropping out of the top-flight as recently as 2001), money changed the fortunes of the Eastlands club but their head-to-head record against the Toffees only got worse.
Before Mansour’s bought the club, the clubs’ head-to-head record read: Everton 6, City 5 and 3 draws. However since the start of the 2008/09 season, Everton have won 7 (including several victories at the Etihad) losing 3 and just 1 occasion ending in a stalemate. The disparity that has grown between the clubs seemed only to fuel the desire of David Moyes’ Everton teams, while City fans have come to despair at the sight of their fixtures vs the Toffees.
But Pellegrini’s City have been handed a Premier League life-line with Liverpool losing to third placed Chelsea and the Citizens are not going let their second chance at the 2013/14 title slip through their fingers.
The returns of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure from recent injuries has come at just the right time. While Aguero has struggled through games as he re-adjusts to the pace of the Premier League, Toure has picked up the mantle as City’s top scorer (19) and most influential player, highlighting his importance with a sparkling performance and goal at Crystal Palace last week.
But all of City’s five Premier League defeats have come away from home this season and the four draws they have succumbed to on the road means they have suffered in the way of homesickness.
Everton- Howard; Baines, Stones, Jagielka, Coleman; McCarthy, Osman; Barkley, Naismith, McGeady; Lukaku.
Manchester City- Hart; Kolarov, Kompany, Dimichelis, Zabaleta; Toure, Fernandinho; Silva, Nasri, Aguero; Dzeko.
James McCarthy- the midfielder has been most fan’s player of the year among a host of contenders worthy of the mantle. Coleman, Baines, Distin, Lukaku have all been in top form and will no doubt be nominated for the accolade. Gareth Barry can add himself to that list too and with the 32 year-old ineligible to play due to his loan agreement with parent club City, McCarthy’s role in central midfield will be more important than ever on Saturday.
The Irishman has been essential to the progressive style of football that Martinez has rolled out in his first year at Goodison Park, breaking up play and hounding out opposition with some tireless performances. But his play may be affected by Barry’s absence. The latter has been the one to drop deep when Tim Howard looks to distribute the ball, allowing McCarthy to help push the team forward, while when the Irish international finds himself chasing opposition back towards their own goal, Barry has provided the defensive surety for him to do so.
Ross Barkley filled in for McCarthy against Crystal Palace in the defensive midfield pairing but his lack of defensive awareness caused an imbalance in the side. It’s perhaps more likely that Leon Osman will line up alongside the former Wigan man and it will be a testament to his ability if he- and whoever partners him- can stop the midfield juggernaut that is Yaya Toure.
Yaya Toure- has there been a better central midfielder in the Premier League this season? Never mind this season, how about that last three? He’s the midfielder who seems to have it all. Strength, height, power, pace, aerial prowess, stamina, free-kick technique, passing range and most importantly for City’s success since his arrival in 2010: goals.
Toure is only three goals shy of the record set by Frank Lampard for most goals scored by a midfielder in a Premier League season. His 22 was set in the 2009/10 season before Toure’s arrival in England and with three games to go, you wouldn’t bet against the Ivorian who netted his side’s second goal and provided an assist for the first in City’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
He has made 2,002 successful passes this season, a Premier League high, with an accuracy of 90% while he has scored all six of the penalty’s taken and bagged four times from six direct free-kick attempts.
City have a treasure chest of attacking players capable of unlocking defences almost at will, but when Pellegrini’s side are struggling to pick the lock of the stingiest rear-guard Toure is the man who delivers.
Last Time Out
Manchester City 3-1 Everton, Etihad Stadium, 5th October 2013
Everton were the only unbeaten side left in the league when they took the M62 up to Eastlands but the streak ended in disappointment after a promising start. Romelu Lukaku scored his 7th goal in six games to give the Toffees a lead that lasted just one minute before Alvaro Negredo equalised.
Sergio Aguero struck before half-time and a soft penalty have the Argentinian the chance to wrap up the points in the second half.
Manchester City DWLDWW