Despite the usual VAR shenanigans hogging the spotlight once again, Manchester City performed well in a hard-fought victory against an in-form Everton side now managed by three-time Champions League-winning manager Carlo Ancelotti. The win was the Blues’ fifth consecutive victory over the Toffees, as well as Pep’s first against his Italian counterpart.
Here are five things we learned from the game…
The more Mahrez the better
The Algerian recorded his sixth assist (and 11th goal contribution) of the Premier League season as he put in yet another excellent performance in a Manchester City shirt. Mahrez had spells on both wings before settling into the number ten position in the second half. Mahrez’s movement against the Toffees was great, both on and off the ball, with the Algerian showing for the ball well and providing Rodri and Gundogan with an outlet.
The 2019 AFCON winner again linked up well with De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus in the final third. Understandably, Jesus will get the plaudits considering his brace, but it should be stated that Mahrez has been enjoying many good performances this season and has quietly established himself as one of City’s better performers.
Three at the back is working
Whilst three at the back has been teased by Guardiola a few times, it wasn’t until the recent victory over Sheffield United that it had been used so effectively. The Catalan again utilised the formation against Everton.
By playing three central defenders who are all comfortable in both the defending aspects of the game as well as with the ball, Pep is giving to licence to City’s attack-minded full-backs Mendy and Cancelo to venture forward, in the hope that giving them less defensive duties will lead to them being more productive offensively. To a certain degree this worked, and Manchester City had the ball in the back of the net from a Cancelo cross early in the first half, although it was ruled out for offside. Whilst Pep has religiously stuck with his version of a 4-3-3 throughout his career, it is foreseeable that we will see this formation a lot more, however, ultimately, Pep’s 3-4-2-1 may only be around whilst Laporte is out of action.
Gabriel Jesus is coming of age
The Brazilian’s impressive brace ensured the Blues started the year off with three points, whilst Manchester City’s record goal-scorer Sergio Aguero spent New Year’s Day confined to the bench. Jesus had a subdued first-half, as did a few City players, but in the second-half City’s number nine was excellent – his energy and movement were great, as was his link-up play with those around him, most notably Riyad Mahrez.
Jesus was unfortunate not to bag himself a second-half hat-trick, after seeing his late headed effort denied by Jordan Pickford. If his New Years resolution was to establish himself as Manchester City’s first-choice striker, then Jesus is certainly going about it in exactly the right way!
Nonsense Defending Strikes Again
Another game has gone, and Manchester City fans have once again been forced to witness yet another example of nonsense defending. In many ways, the 2019/20 campaign has been defined by the woeful defending that has plagued our season, with the Blues failing to keep a clean sheet in 14 of the previous 16 fixtures – a dreadful stat for any reigning Champion to possess.
With City cruising at 2-0, Everton were gifted an undeserved goal after Claudio Bravo’s poor pass was intercepted 20 yards from goal, before Richarlison put the ball in the back of the net. Fortunately for Manchester City, the incident did not cost the Blues the three points, and hopefully 2020, plus the return of Aymeric Laporte, will see Manchester City defend far better.
Eric Garcia continues to impress
Whilst undoubtedly helped by being paired with Rodri and Fernandinho in a back 3, Eric Garcia never looked out of place throughout his second Premier League start with the young Spaniard registering 3 clearances, 4 interceptions, 4 accurate long balls and an impressive 94% pass accuracy. During his few appearances in a City shirt, Garcia has showed himself to be a fantastic young talent with an excellent ability to read to game and to quickly nullify danger, Garcia has impressed so well that I would much rather see the youngster retain his place in the side over John Stones once the England international returns to fitness, an opinion that I am sure is shared by many City fans.
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