by Daisy Cutter
After months of under-par struggling that has baffled supporters, pundits, and – you suspect – Manuel Pellegrini himself Manchester City seem finally to have found the high gears that secured them the title last season.
Their slick passing and fluid movement has returned, and a quartet of consecutive victories – two of which laid to rest long-standing ‘bogey’ fixtures – have hauled them back to within striking distance of a Chelsea side that seem incapable of losing.
The sensational form of Sergio Aguero aside it is difficult to pinpoint what has caused this dramatic turnaround but evidence lends itself to a team spirit rediscovered as they trailed to Bayern Munich with just minutes to go during their last Champion’s League encounter. The free-scoring Argentine may have bagged an impressive hat-trick that evening – prompting accusations of City being a one-man side – but the collective energy, fight, and pride that coursed through the Etihad on the final whistle acted as a release valve on months of pent-up frustration. City suddenly remembered who they were, what they are capable of and, most importantly, how to set about dismantling opposition with lethal disdain.
Southampton and Sunderland both suffered the ensuing backlash and it’s logical to assume Everton will be similarly punished this Saturday teatime especially in light of the Toffees’ own prolonged dip in form.
The visitors though boast a very credible record against City and it wasn’t long ago when they too were considered a bogey team of the current champions winning nine of the fourteen previous encounters. Defeats both home and away last term appears to have ended that curse and it’s worth noting that the majority of Everton victories were presided over by David Moyes, a man who appeared to take personal exception to City’s fancy ways and consequently fortified his men for battle. At times it was Braveheart vs The Age Of Innocence with the inevitable conclusion being a pumped-up Tim Cahill punching a corner flag in goal celebration.
Under Martinez the Merseysiders have opened up, attempting to play their way through the phases, and this more genteel style is much more in keeping with City’s ideal.
They still possess Lukaku however, a combination of brawn and touch that will trouble a City rearguard missing their leader Vincent Kompany and the pacy striker will look to exploit any uncertainties in the unfamiliar partnership of Mangala and Dimichelis. With McGeady and Mirallas offering intelligent support there’s plenty of scope for Everton to break quick and hard.
Countering such counters has been City’s Achilles heel this season so it’s critical Pellegrini is brave and starts once more with a rejuvenated Fernandinho in the holding role despite Roma being only four days away. Elsewhere Milner is expected to pip Jovetic for a spot with his forceful endeavour favouring cute flicks to weary a congested Everton midfield.
Where this game may be won tactically resides in which pair of full-backs pins back the other. Both sides are blessed with wingers in all-but-name and should Baines and Colman cede to away etiquette and attempt to keep a solid back four Clichy and Zabaleta – both reborn of late – will surely capitalise and run riot out wide.
Then there’s Aguero. A devastating one-man spree of muscle, trickery, and intent ‘Kun’ has exploded into a stratosphere only inhabited by a select handful of sublime talents who seem to have this football lark mastered. So far fourteen goals have been haughtily slotted home and now that his team-mates have raised their game he’s even prepared to help them onto the score-sheet too with three assists in the last two games. All this in addition to his relentless probing and expertly seeking out a yard of space means it’s safe to assume Phil Jagielka will have a sleep-deprived Friday night.
That goes double for Tim Howard who has become a shadow of his former self, uncharacteristically shaky behind a defence who have already shipped in 22 goals this season, more than any other side bar those in genuine relegation plight.
With this in mind Sergio and co must be licking their lips and even without the artful magician Silva pulling the strings and Kompany the warrior leading from the back it’s hard to see past anything other than a continuation of Manchester City’s rebirth.
The wheels are back on the juggernaut and Everton will do well to not be flattened.