I left the Etihad Stadium last night sulking like a five-year-old girl that had been told she wasn’t going to be leaving Toys “R” Us with the Barbie doll on the shelf. For me, and every other City fan last night, that Barbie doll was three points against Everton. Three points we really effing deserved.
This was the first time we’ve failed to score at home since the 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Middlesbrough last January. The statistics suggest we were unlucky that day – we fired a massive 24 shots at Tomás Mejías’s goal – but we weren’t. We were terrible and the visitors deserved their win. Against Everton, though, where 22 shots failed to produce a single goal, it was the home side who were far and away the better team. The boys, salivating from the chops, went after that goal like sharks after blood; we just couldn’t score.
It was mind-bendingly frustrating given the fact Pellegrini had set up the team so perfectly to get in behind Everton’s back four. Raheem Sterling, Jesús Navas and Kevin De Bruyne made up an axis brimming with speed and creativity behind Sergio Agüero. The Argentine was isolated for much of the first half until Raheem was pushed up as a false 9 and instructed to service his strike partner. The change inspired a couple of threatening drives into Everton’s 18-yard-box and Sterling, our best player in the first half, saw a potent effort fly just over the crossbar. The visitors were limited to only a handful of chances, but the ominous feeling that they could punish our impotence with a single counter attack gripped the stadium. Hearts were in mouths when Romelu Lukaku outpaced Demichelis and shot over the bar, but there were no more opportunities for the big Belgian as Martin stepped up his game and Nico turned Beckenbauer in the second half. The ex-Valencia man has stepped up admirably in Vinny’s absence and those leg breaking tackles go down a treat with the beer drinking and fag smoking Mancs in the stands.
After the break, the ability and versatility present in our attack propelled a 45-minute onslaught of teasing crosses, corners and well-saved efforts. On the right flank, Sagna and Navas worked excellently. Both possess a first touch unrivaled by any one else in the side, and their close control ensured neat and nimble one-twos could be exchanged in the final third of the pitch. Leighton Baines and his sizable quadriceps were the victims of the formidable double-act and the majority of our threatening football came down that side.
I’ve been impressed with Navas in the last few weeks. That goal at Goodison Park has definitely had a transforming effect on his confidence; you rarely see him shoot at goal, but he’s doing that with both feet now as well as wriggling himself into dangerous areas and sprinting back into position when the opposition counter. You can’t underestimate how important it is for your wide men to track back, especially when you’ve got a back line that is so uncertain. It’s no surprise that in the last two games, both in which Navas has started, we’ve kept clean sheets and looked so much more assured defensively.
While I’m praising individuals, I suppose it’s a big thing that there’ll be no criticism for either Yaya Touré or Fernando in this report. I was expecting the worst when Fernandinho was ruled out injured and had my head in my hands when they were named together in a CM two, but they did well. It was a calm and composed performance from the duo, albeit a little slow, but they worked hard to prevent Barkley from parading through the middle.
But for all our dominance and hard work, there was little reward. Tim Howard had a rare blinder, making five crucial saves. One was from Agüero who you would have put your entire family’s lives on scoring when he squirmed through Everton’s defence and hit a poor effort straight at the American. Criticising the Argentine is like defacing your own masterpiece – it’s nigh impossible and it scratches the soul – but on another day, he would’ve won us that game.
Nevertheless, and even when it involves removing a player of the calibre of Agüero from the field, if your striker isn’t firing, you have a replacement on the bench and you’re trying to win a game, you take him off. That’s why I can’t get my head round Manuel’s decision not to bring Kelechi on. The lad has a record of goal every 70 minutes and has shown time and time again that he is not out of place in this squad of so called superstars. Praise him all you want, Manuel, tell the fans what they want to hear and insist that he “deserves an opportunity”. The game was calling out for a poacher who knows where the back of the net is last night and you had one sat next to you on the bench.
A lot of things pissed me off yesterday; Pellegrini’s tiny balls, Agüero’s unproductiveness in front of goal and John Stones’s brilliance in defending it, but I’ve saved the best until last. Deep into the galloping minutes of injury time, Sterling skated into the penalty area and was brought down by a Stones slide-tackle that made absolutely zero contact with the ball. With his whistle in his mouth, Roger East was about to make 50,000 Manchester City fans dance with glee by pointing to the spot or prepare the pens and paper for death threats by blowing for a goal kick. He did the latter, and walked off the pitch to a delightful chorus of “f*** offs”.
I’m hoping for a backlash against Crystal Palace this weekend. Other than bringing in Fernandinho for Fernando if he’s fit, I see no reason to tinker with a side that played so well last night. With two proper wide men in the side, we play delicious, exciting football that terrifies the life out of opposition defences, but we need to be putting our chances away. Without goals, the title will keep running away from us.
Until next time.