The FourFourTwo Preview: Everton vs Man City
Blues fuse in Spanish-tinged battle of the hopeful north-western cities with titles and Europe at stake.
Teatime tussle though this is, Manchester City are the first of the three title contenders (sorry Jose, we're counting your gambolling lambs) to play this weekend. With Chelsea hosting Norwich on Sunday afternoon and Liverpool at Palace on Monday night, the Premier League could have different leaders on four successive days… before City's Wednesday night game in hand at home to Villa gives them the chance to take charge for good.
- So'ton 2-0 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 2-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Everton 2-3 Palace (Prem)
- S'land 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-0 Arsenal (Prem)
MAN CITY FORM
- Palace 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 3-1 WBA (Prem)
- Man City 2-2 S'land (Prem)
- Liverpool 3-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
This weekend Manuel Pellegrini's men have the advantage of going first, but face the hardest of the three contenders' fixtures – and the most difficult of their three remaining tasks (they finish at home to West Ham).
Everton's Champions League hopes may be almost gone – they're four points behind Arsenal, who host West Brom on Sunday and visit Norwich on the last day – but they won't let up, even if victory may inadvertently help their city rivals toward the title. Roberto Martinez wants European football, and by kick-off Everton may feel the hot breath of Spurs (who face West Ham) and a revitalised Manchester United (Sunderland). This is no time to play the generous host, just to annoy the neighbours.
Plus, Martinez's side have spent the season taking the game to their visitors, averaging two goals per game – their highest home ratio since 1989/90, putting the glad into the Gwladys Street end.
But while Martinez prizes attacking football, his team are far from naive buccaneers: they rarely lose a lead. Only Arsenal have a better points-per-game average when scoring first; on the 20 occasions Everton have opened the scoring, they've had only one draw (at West Brom) and one loss… at the Etihad, when Romelu Lukaku's opener was quickly levelled by Alvaro Negredo, with Sergio Aguero and a Tim Howard OG sealing the home win.
That result typified City's almost irresistible attacking verve at home, but they have been less assertive on the road: although they have tightened up when visiting smaller teams, the recent loss at Liverpool and draw at Arsenal suggest they may still lack belief at the better teams.
Everton are certainly one of those, especially considering City haven't had much Goodison fun of late, with four straight defeats yielding just one goal. The last time they won there, with goals from Robinho and Stephen Ireland, they had Felipe Caicedo up front, with Mark Hughes bringing on Martin Petrov, Gelson Fernandes and Ched Evans. A lot has changed in the last half-decade – but City will have to prove it to vault back to the top.
Everton will certainly be without City's Gareth Barry, and they may have further problems further back. Leighton Baines faces scans on knee and calf injuries, while Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka only have a pair of functioning hamstrings between them, meaning Antolin Alcaraz gets another chance to score an own goal.
Pellegrini's big decision may be whether to risk David Silva. A chronic ankle injury means the Spaniard can't play every three days, and although City won comfortably at Palace in his absence, resting him against Sunderland contributed to a disappointing 2-2 draw.
Player to watch: Antolin Alcaraz (Everton)
A centre-back? In this clash of the attack-minded teams? Well, yes, because Everton's thirtysomething Paraguayan stand-in could be crucial. Despite the oggie he was defensively dogged at Southampton, leading Everton's lists for tackles (5 won out of 6), aerial duels (8/11), clearances (14/14), interceptions (4) and ball recoveries (10); however, his relative lack of passes – 30, compared to his junior centre-back partner John Stones's confident 43 – may have helped starve Baines of the ball. With Barry out, Alcaraz will need to play his part in building attacks from the back.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 3-1 Everton (Prem, Oct 13)
- Everton 2-0 City (Prem, Mar 13)
- City 1-1 Everton (Prem, Dec 12)
- Everton 1-0 City (Prem, Jam 12)
- City 2-0 Everton (Prem, Sep 11)
Martinez could have been Pellegrini's assistant, as City chased the Chilean while the Spaniard prepared to leave Wigan. Alternatively, he could have been his replacement at Malaga. But as any fule kno – especially this far down an Everton vs Man City preview – he did neither. "Technically, tactically and physically you need to be perfect when you face Manchester City," quoth the ex-Wigan gaffer before October's game at the Etihad. "Unless you get an advantage tactically you'll never be able to compete against the top four. We have to realise we have to be as good as we can and then maybe we can compete against them."
Facts and figures
- 10 of Everton’s 15 home games against top-six teams since 2011/12 have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Everton have won this fixture in each of the past 4 seasons.
- City have won the first half in 8 of their last 9 matches.
- 4 of the 5 matches between these teams since 2011/12 have had fewer than 3 goals.
Best Bet: Under 2.5 Goals @ 2.50
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Provided Everton aren't as sleepy as they were at Saints, this could be a cracker. 3-2 to City.