Manchester City get back on top of things after 52 days

Aymeric Laporte and Gabriel Jesus score at the end of each half to account for Everton

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus heads home his side’s second goal late in the premier league game against Everton  at Goodison Park. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus heads home his side’s second goal late in the premier league game against Everton at Goodison Park. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

 

Everton 0 Manchester City 2

Manchester City have had to wait 52 days to remind themselves what it is like to be looking down on the rest of the Premier League table and, having played catch-up for that length of time, it is fair to assume they will be happily enjoying the view from the top.

True, Liverpool have a game in hand to put themselves in front again. Yet City are still entitled to feel invigorated when there was a seven-point deficit at one point and the possibility, as Pep Guardiola has acknowledged, that the reigning champions looked done.

Only a small possibility, mind, and more fool anyone for thinking that a team with City’s gifts would relinquish their grip on the title without a heck of a struggle.

They look ready for the battle and their latest triumph was precisely the kind of victory, to borrow the old cliche, that every successful team requires in a championship season. Not at their most fluent, perhaps, but still talented enough for that not to matter, scoring in the final seconds of each half through Aymeric Laporte and the substitute Gabriel Jesus.

Nerves? City, like Liverpool, have not been immune but there was nothing fretful about this performance and it was too much ultimately for the team wearing the darker shade of blue.

All of which should probably be no surprise bearing in mind Everton had won three of their previous 12 league fixtures, losing seven times in the process, and came into this match on the back of a downward spiral that meant only two other clubs, Huddersfield and Fulham, had gathered fewer points since the beginning of December.

Marco Silva, facing growing scrutiny about his managerial record, had tried to shake up his team by leaving out four established and, in some cases, highly expensive players – Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Cenk Tosun and his usual captain, Séamus Coleman – and adjusting the shape of his team.

They also had the backing of a crowd that, contrary to rumour, did not show any outward signs of rooting en masse for City, aka Anyone But Liverpool. Any temptation on the Gwladys Street end to lapse into mutiny was restrained.

Unlike Arsenal and Newcastle, City’s previous two opponents, Everton did at least stop Sergio Agüero opening the scoring inside the first minute. Indeed, they held off their opponents for longer than many people might have anticipated.

When the breakthrough arrived it was stoppage time at the end of the first half and, for frustrated Evertonians, it came from an familiar route. No team in the top division has let in more goals from set-pieces this season. This was the 12th time Everton have conceded from a free-kick or a corner and nobody could say they were not warned about Laporte’s threat in the air.

His first headed effort came from an early corner and, inside the six-yard box, the centre half really ought to have done better than turning the ball wide of Jordan Pickford’s left-handed post. He made amends for the goal and, on both occasions, the most galling part from an Everton perspective was that he was completely unchallenged. At this level, no side can expect to get away with defending so generously.

That, however, has been one of the regular flaws of Everton: a basic lack of defensive organisation. David Silva swung over the free-kick from the left and Laporte had found space between Kurt Zouma and André Gomis. It was a more difficult chance than his first one, but Laporte adjusted his body position to score with a twisting header.

On the balance of play, it was fully merited towards the end of an opening period in which Everton, to give them their due, had threatened sporadically, but rarely with any real conviction. Guardiola had kept back Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne for Sunday’s assignment against Chelsea. Not that the changes in personnel tend to disrupt City’s rhythm.

Leroy Sané, back patrolling the left wing after being rested against Arsenal, was often their most dangerous player until it was time for Sterling’s introduction. Ilkay Gündogan turned an early effort against the crossbar from another of Silva’s left-sided deliveries and there were only fleeting moments in that part of the game when the away side looked remotely threatened.

That is not say City were playing at the point of maximum expression, or even particularly close to their best, but the disparity between the two sides was clear and there was even the remarkable sight of Bernardo Silva, the smallest man on the pitch, winning a penalty-area header in close proximity to Zouma and Michael Keane, two centre halves well over 6ft tall, early in the second half.

With the home defence looking vulnerable again, Agüero’s overhead kick went wide when a second goal at that stage would almost certainly have ended Everton’s hopes of a second-half recovery.

As long as there was a solitary goal between the sides, Everton had the opportunity to find a way back. Still, though, they could not create a clear opening to endanger Ederson in the opposition goalmouth and the game was sealed in stoppage-time when two of the substitutes linked up.

De Bruyne’s pass set up Jesus and when the Brazilian’s first effort spun back to him off Pickford, his follow-up header looped into the net. – Guardian

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