“It’s only a game,” said my mother as Ademola Lookman poked in Everton’s fourth through the canyon between Claudio Bravo’s legs. Could the person supposed to be most supportive woman in my life have uttered words any less helpful to her son, sat with his head in his hands wishing the pint he’d just sipped had been laced with bleach? It’s times like these when I wish the age-old saying wasn’t so empty, that they’d somehow soothe the screaming inside my head. But they don’t.
And now we all look for someone to blame. Five minutes after the final whistle it was my Mum. Then, after a few minutes thinking time, it was Gaël Clichy. Or was it Bravo? Sergio had a shocker, too, I guess. What was the manager’s part in this?
Questions, questions, questions at a period in time where we may have expected to have had all the answers. And so now Pep Guardiola will face more questioning about his system. “Why are you not adapting to the players you have in your squad?”, “will you change your approach in the wake of this poor result?” Pep’s response, as he has insisted in the past, will remain the same: he won’t change what he believes in.
Asked why his team keep conceding from first shots on target Pep’s answer was less conclusive: “Believe me, I would like to know why”. It’s clear Guardiola has questions of his own and I suspect most of them will be of his good friend, Txiki Begiristain. City’s Director of Football was a key figure in bringing Pep to the club but hasn’t half dealt his mate a shit hand. Speaking to Cadena SER after leaving City in the summer of 2016, Manuel Pellegrini said the club had been very clear about their intention to bring the former Barcelona coach to Manchester when he was appointed as manager in 2013. So why, when millions of pounds were spent on youth recruitment and encouraging the academy to play a style of football that would correlate with Guardiola’s ideals, was the first team squad neglected? Surely the guys at the top didn’t expect the academy to be producing world class talents ready for first team football in just a couple of years?
The team that capitulated so embarrassingly against Everton on Sunday afternoon contained three players in Pablo Zabaleta, Gaël Clichy and Yaya Touré whose contracts expire in the summer and most likely will not be renewed. Had the trio picked up injuries in this game, the injury-plagued Fabian Delph, the error-prone Aleksandar Kolarov and 19-year-old Aleix García would have been those replacing them. Other than Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, it’s worth asking whether any of City’s imports in the last three seasons before this summer represent value for money.
Guardiola was courted because of his ideas and his success in transferring them onto the pitch at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. If he changes them just because the squad he has at his disposal isn’t good enough, it wouldn’t have been worth hiring him in the first place.
Granted the tone of this report would not suggest it, but the first half was one in which the capabilities of this City team were flaunted. City were bringing the ball out from the back excellently, Otamendi carrying the ball forward as he so often does and finding De Bruyne who spent the first 45 minutes roaming menacingly outside Everton’s penalty area. The Belgian will have been disappointed that neither Raheem Sterling nor David Silva were on his wavelength as they could not apply the finish to two sumptuous, drilled passes separated by just a matter of minutes. There was a similar feel here to the first half at the Etihad in which City perhaps gave their best 45 minutes of the season and when Sergio Agüero came just millimetres away from getting his toe to the end of De Bruyne’s cross from the left, we all had a good idea of what would come next.
After giving the ball away to Tom Davies inside his own half, Clichy was forced to watch Romelu Lukaku punish his mistake for the second time this season in the 34th minute. City’s defence, which has received deserved criticism this season for its fragility, had been resolute up until Clichy’s error that threw them out of position and the transition from attack to defence is an issue that Guardiola’s back four continue to struggle with. When in possession, the back-line assumes a different shape to when the opposition are on the ball. Misplaced passes such as Clichy’s hand the ball to the opposition against the run of play, forcing the defence to quickly assume a different formation. Of course, a solution would be to cut out the number of individual errors this side seem to make but with this current batch of players, Guardiola must also ensure his defence are better prepared in these situations.
Nevertheless, City reacted positively and what a shame it was to see Sterling denied an opportunity to silence Goodison when his fierce left-footed effort flew just wide of the post. Bacary Sagna’s header which was cleared off the line in the final moments of the half suggested that it would be one of those days where the famous Goodison atmosphere would reverberate for the full 90 minutes.
And so that proved to be the case as Kevin Mirallas fired in Everton’s second just after the break, shooting our confidence dead. John Stones was unlucky to see his interception fall into the path of Ross Barkley who slid in the Belgian but perhaps had an inkling that such a moment of cruel misfortune was destined for him on his return to Merseyside.
It was then boys against men as 18-year-old Tom Davies chipped over Bravo after selling both Touré and Clichy with a beautiful piece of skill before £11m January recruit Lookman pounced on another Stones mistake to seal the deal. The less we say about this game the better and with the league’s form team next up, the lads must erase their minds of this rout if they are to give a response.