Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 21 August 2017
Referee: Bobby Madley
Kick off: 20:00
On the back of an opening day victory away to Premier League newcomers Brighton, Manchester City will, on Monday, begin their home campaign with a challenging visit from Ronald Koeman’s Everton.
Everton, like City, invested heavily on recruitment in the summer, spending close to £130m on the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney and Jordan Pickford, in a bid to break into the top six this season. However, the Toffees were somewhat contained by Mark Hughes’ Stoke, whom many tipped to be relegated, on the opening day. Rooney’s debut goal saved Koeman’s blushes as his wealth of talent failed to dispatch of the Potters and, instead, held out for a 1-0 win.
A test of Pep’s tactical aptitude?
Over the summer, both teams have become accustomed to formations playing three at the back – a formula that saw Chelsea run away with the Premier League title last term – but will Everton’s backline of Ashley Williams, Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane be able to cope with the blistering pace of City’s attacking players?
Manager Pep Guardiola spoke of his players requiring tactical versatility for this season and that could see them move to mirror Everton’s 3-4-3 formation as opposed to sticking with the 3-5-2 that proved to be a success at Brighton. The 3-4-3 formation would allow Guardiola to bring at least one of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané or Bernando Silva into the team without having to disrupt their defensive unit. Whereas, if City remain in the 3-5-2, the only space for those players to fill is the wing-back positions, where new signings Kyle Walker and Danilo have performed so admirably since their arrivals.
The chance to make a statement
With cross-city rivals Manchester United demolishing West Ham and Swansea by the same 4-0 scoreline in their first two games, Guardiola and his side will want to make a statement of intent this season, having failed to muster a genuine title challenge last time around. In the reverse fixture last season, Everton tore Guardiola’s side apart limb from limb and inflicted the Spaniard’s heaviest defeat as a manager on him.
To silence the critics of last season, City must dispatch of this newly-built Everton side with consummate ease. Any sign of weakness and the predators (also known as the media) will be calling for Guardiola’s head and undoubtedly questioning his summer of high spending.
Whilst maintaining the scepticism over City’s past results and performances against Everton and the narrative of Rooney facing his former rivals for his boyhood club, there is no doubt that City should be taking the three points.
With the strength of the squad that Guardiola has assembled, City have a wealth of options in terms of formation, personnel and tactical play. Their versatility should make it near-impossible for any team bar the very best to disrupt their tempo, and I don’t think that Everton can be classed as being at that level yet.
3-1. Jesus to score a brace and Danilo to put City out of sight before Rooney converts a Sigurdsson set-piece in the dying embers.