Less than 72 hours after being taught a football lesson like no other, Manchester City are preparing to pick themselves off the floor and take on their modern day Premier League nemesis.
The midweek beating handed out by Bayern Munich will be fresh in the minds of Manuel Pellegrini’s men as they step out against an Everton team they find so difficult to beat.
When Manure’s new boss David Moyes, was in charge of the blue half of Merseyside, Everton had perennial expectations of taking six points off City.
With the Toffees the only remaining unbeaten side in the Premier League, there’s no real reason to believe that Roberto Martinez, cannot continue persecuting City in the same vein as his predecessor.
After all, the Spaniard sprang one of the biggest FA Cup Final shocks of recent times, when unfancied Wigan saw Roberto Mancini off into an ignominious City exit, snatching a last minute Wembley win.
Under ‘3G’ – Gollum the Glaswegian Gargoyle – Moyes, Everton’s direct style of play – typified by the latest Swamp dweller – Marouane Fellaini – unsettled various City sides under a succession of managers including Joe Royle, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, Sven Goran Eriksson, Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini.
When the opening three fixtures under Martinez brought a trio of underwhelming draws, Everton fans were lamenting the fact that the Goodison Park outfit weren’t playing the ‘Everton way’. They objected to ‘tippy-tappy’ football.
Any rumblings of unrest have been quietened after a stoical win over Chelsea and further victories at West Ham and at home to Newcastle. The giddy Goodison-goers are girding their loins and gearing up for vertigo attacks and nosebleeds, as a win at the Etihad will see them go top of the table by three o’clock on Saturday afternoon.
It promises to be a stern test for City. It will be an examination of their hunger for the fight, their determination and drive for honours and, above all, their collective self belief.
On paper City should be sure-fire winners, but that’s been said time and time again, only for the sky blues to succumb to the rigorous efforts of the less glamorous, but hugely effective Everton line-ups.
City have won only one of the last eight encounters – a 2-0 victory in Manchester en-route to the PL title. That clean sheet is the only time Everton have been shut-out in the last 16 games against City and, with Joe Hart shipping three goals in two successive fixtures for the first time since his days at Shrewsbury Town, it doesn’t bode well.
Romelu Lukaku is threatening to rampage through many a PL defence after Jose Mourinho’s perverse decision to loan out the big Belgian battering ram of a centre forward.
One influential loan signing who will be missing from hostilities is City’s and now Everton’s Team GB – Gareth Barry. The experienced midfielder, massively under-rated during his time at City, is already established as a key starter in Martinez’s first XI.
His stunning stop on Chelsea’s Samuel Eto’o, when the Cameroon veteran was seemingly nailed on to equalise during Everton’s 1-0 win, immediately won over any doubters in the Gwladys Street Stand.
Barry’s transfer deadline day departure down the East Lancs Road is lamented by many City fans, convinced he still had his part to play for Manuel Pellegrini. The City boss disagreed, placing Barry behind the likes of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Jack Rodwell…even Javi Garcia for God’s sake!
It would be nice to think ‘GazBaz’ might be accorded an introduction before kick-off, to enable City fans to show their appreciation of a player who was instrumental in bringing the glory days back to City. Will it happen? Sadly I doubt it.
An Evertonian of the past could get a recall to the City side with Joleon Lescott being touted as a possible replacement for an out of form Matija Nastasic. The young Serb who had such an outstanding first PL season, has been struggling in recent weeks, having suffered a debilitating pre-season injury.
Undoubtedly a top talent and a player destined to be one of the world’s finest centre backs, Nasty may benefit from being taken out of the firing line for a few weeks.
The same scenario and conundrum has been laid at the door of City goalkeeper Joe Hart. Critics would have you believe he is the root cause of all City’s ills of recent weeks. Yes he was culpable with one, arguably two of Bayern’s goals in midweek, but he remains a top top keeper.
At worst, the adage of class being timeless and form being temporary, could potentially be laid at Joe’s door. Arguments rage that he isn’t being pushed hard enough for his place at either at club or country level.
Rumours abound that Joe asked City’s Chilean manager to hire Dave Watson, the goalkeeping coach who brought a raw Hart, quickly up to speed during his loan season at Birmingham. If true, it obviously fell on deaf ears, although Joe will be with Watson while on England duty next week.
Roy Hodgson is already on record as saying Joe remains his number one choice. Whether Pellegrini agrees with the sentiment remains to be seen, with Romanian international Costel Pantilimon still to make his PL debut, three years after joining City.
David Silva will make a welcome return to the starting line up. His influence, combined with great link up play with his fellow countryman Alvaro Negredo almost – almost – led to Mission Impossible and the Great Escape all-in-one, as City nearly salvaged an unwarranted and undeserved draw against Bayern.
An on song Silva would transform any side, and City desperately need the Spanish Merlin to spread his magical creativity circa 2012 on the Etihad playing surface.
If Edin Dzeko starts ahead of Negredo, I for one, will despair at Pellegrini’s selection policy. Dzeko’s goals to games ratio statistics may look the part, but the Beast of Sevilla brings movement, aggression and effort that far outweighs the Bosnian’s sometimes, limp, contribution.
Aguero was unusually anonymous against the Germans, but you simply can’t drop the Argentine superstar without a very good reason – something I have yet to hear.
Everton are undoubtedly City’s bogey team of the 21st century, but Wednesday night’s Bavarian roasting might work in City’s favour, making the Toffees a more palatable proposition come Saturday lunchtime.
We can but hope.
By David Walker