Having finally slain Sunderland at the Stadium of Light at the sixth time of asking, Manchester City come up against opponents who, until recent times, were City’s biggest baddest bogey team on the planet.
As the festive period approaches there’s a fair comparison to be drawn with City, the Black Cats , Everton and a certain Ebeneezer Scrooge.
Prior to Wednesday night’s joyous 4-1 walloping on Wearside, Sunderland were very much the ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’, whereas the Toffees invariably always made things sticky and very messy for City, in their role as the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’.
Everton racked up home and away wins over City for four consecutive seasons between 2007 & 2011. Year-on-year, it was painful and oh so predictable.
David Moyes may have courted ridicule and caused much merriment among the Sky Blue fraternity during his tenure of employment at The Swamp, but it was far from funny when his Everton teams of old used to pummel City into submission with alarming regularity.
Between them, Sven Goran Eriksson, Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini managed just two wins over Moyes’ Evertonians, whilst incurring 11 losses.
It was all change last season as City, under Manuel Pellegrini and Everton managed by Roberto Martinez, faced up at the Etihad and Goodison Park with the cool Chilean taking maximum points off the stylish Spaniard.
City had never previously recorded two victories over the blue half of Merseyside, in the same Premiership/Premier League season.
Prior to Pellegrini’s champions chewing up their formidable foe, you had to go all the way back to 1980/81 when City won 2-0 at Goodison on Boxing Day, followed up with a 3-1 win at Maine Road.
This time out the form guide suggests another City win, with the reigning champions finally hitting their stride pattern as Everton have stumbled, dropping four points against Spurs and Hull City.
Conversely, the two teams have had wildly differing fortunes in Europe with City struggling in the Champions League, whereas Everton have romped away with their group in the Europa League.
The European element could have a key bearing on this domestic dust up. City have a huge task on Wednesday night in Italy, where a win or a score draw against Roma will most likely see them qualify for the knockout stage of the CL.
Pellegrini knows he can’t risk dropping points in City’s pursuit of Chelsea, but with an injury hit squad he doesn’t have the luxury of resting or protecting his key asset Sergio Aguero.
Martinez has no such continental considerations and his overriding priority will be to get his mid-table team up into the top six as soon as possible.
One man who will certainly figure in proceedings is Yaya Toure who is banned from the Roma showdown, as he serves the second of a three-match European suspension.
The big Ivorian appears to be rediscovering the form that made him such a formidable and prolific figure last season. City need to optimise his power, vision and scoring prowess this month, before he departs for Equatorial Guinea and the finals of the African Cup of Nations in January.
Missing on Saturday evening will be Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Stevan Jovetic through injury – but Eliaquim Mangala will be back after serving his one-match ban against Sunderland, whereas Edin Dzeko and Aleksander Kolarov are now fit and available.
Dedryk Boyata gave a decent account of himself alongside Martin Demichelis against the Mackems in midweek, but it would be a surprise if Mangala isn’t immediately restored to first team duties.
The £32m purchase from Porto has come in for much criticism with his performance levels dropping off after a dazzling debut against Chelsea. The 23-year Frenchman rightly received two yellow cards against Southampton, but was unfairly made a scapegoat following the 3-0 City win.
Idiot journalist Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail, sought further notoriety among City supporters by awarding Mangala 1-out-of-10 for his showing at St. Mary’s. In truth, Mangala is now adapting to the pace and pressures of the Premier League and will prove a fine medium and long term investment.
Injuries and suspensions have inevitably hindered Pellegrini’s usual squad rotation, but if results are anything to go by, the continuity seems to have benefited the team,
Jesus Navas, although not everybody’s choice over James Milner, is linking well with Sergio Aguero. Apprehensions persist concerning Milner’s willingness to commit his long-term future to City, with his contract running out at the end of the season. Too much bench time won’t help enamour him to his employers.
A fit David Silva is a must in any side – not just City’s First XI – but Stevan Jovetic has thrived in Dzeko’s absence, whereas Gael Clichy has emerged well in the last four wins, after struggling against CSKA and QPR.
If City can maintain Premier League momentum with a fourth straight win (Manuel had stated he wanted eight wins on the bounce through to the end of 2014) plus the imminent reappearance of Silva on the horizon, City will be shaping as very worthy challengers to Mourinho’s marauders.
On the topic of returns, the Etihad will surely give a great reception to Team GB – Gareth Barry – who will be back at the place where he became a Champion in Sky Blue, for the first time since he was initially loaned to Everton.
So often underrated by those who didn’t witness his work on a weekly basis, Barry was a vital component in City’s renaissance and a popular player with the fans.
As warm as his pre-match welcome should be, Gareth, along with his team mates need to feel that the trip down the East Lancashire Road was pointless…a fruitless exercise.
History shows us that Everton must never be under-estimated and any thoughts of ‘When in Rome’ must be banished until Sunday morning.
Now is not the time for the return of the Everton bogeyman.
By David Walker
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