Manchester City 1-2 Everton: Everton attack well for 20 minutes, then defend resolutely for 70

December 21, 2010

The starting line-ups

Everton went ahead early on, and held on despite going down to ten men for the final half hour.

Roberto Mancini recalled James Milner to his starting line-up, playing him in a deep midfield role with Yaya Toure as the playmaker. Carlos Tevez started upfront.

David Moyes made two changes. Steven Pienaar was out, so Leon Osman played on the left, whilst Victor Anichebe started upfront rather than Louis Saha.

Everton started excellently. They kept the ball well and took the game to City, producing three good chances early on – two of which were converted.

Baines forward

Leighton Baines was involved in both goals. His attacking qualities have been discussed before, and he needs no invitation to get forward, but here he was encouraged by City’s wingers’ tendency to move into the centre of the pitch.

It was generally David Silva who was playing on City’s right, and he moved inside throughout the opening period and allowed Baines forward. As with Newcastle’s goal at Eastlands earlier this season, City were then vulnerable down that side and Baines’ cross (eventually) resulted in the first goal, before he started and finished an excellent move to make it 2-0. (The second goal, it should also be noted, was whilst right-back Pablo Zabaleta was off the pitch, and Milner was filling in.)

City sit back

Despite the fact they’d prospered by taking the game to City, Moyes suddenly decided to go for an all-out-defence approach after just twenty minutes of the game. The main consequence of this was Anichebe’s new role – rather than staying high up the pitch against the City centre-backs, he was given the responsibility of defending Everton’s left flank, which basically involved tracking Pablo Zabaleta up and down the line. Leon Osman therefore moved inside into a central position, and Marouane Fellaini played deeper, infront of the defence.

On the opposite flanks, Balotelli moved upfront alongside Carlos Tevez when City got the ball, meaning Phil Neville tracked him inside and became something like a third centre-back. In turn, Seamus Coleman dropped deeper and formed what look like a back five at times.

Still, Everton remained quite narrow, which was unquestionably the right approach considering that Tevez, Silva and Balotelli were all looking to move into a similar, central position on the edge of the box. Everton made it difficult to play through that zone and City were forced to move the ball wide – crossing is not something City do well, and they didn’t complete a cross in the opening 45 minutes. Instead, they shot a lot, especially from long distance – Everton made an extraordinary number of blocks:

by Guardian Chalkboards

The problem with playing Anichebe as a makeshift left-winger was obvious – Everton didn’t have an outlet upfront. They looked like 4-1-4-1-0 when they didn’t have the ball – Cahill became the furthest man forward, but whilst he has an impressive leap, he lacks hold up ability or pace in behind, and so City kept winning the ball back, having 90% of possession at one point in the game.


At half-time Moyes changed things – Anichebe stopped dropping back to the wing, and Cahill moved into that position more. Mancini also make a switch, introducing Adam Johnson for Milner, with Yaya Toure moving deeper.

Soon after, Anichebe was sent off for two late challenges in a short space of time. He is still returning from injury – he’d played just 85 minutes so far this season before this match, and he hasn’t completed a Premier League game for nearly two years. His fitness levels were clearly suffering, especially since he had to play such an energetic role. His bookings were both the result of being too slow into challenges – Moyes had been planning to substitute him just before his red card.


The overall pattern of the game changed little – City dominated – but Everton’s problem with no outlet upfront was even more exaggerated. Moyes then made a brave but effective change – Coleman came off, Saha came on upfront, with Cahill dropping into midfield and Jack Rodwell playing rightish. Saha provided a focal point for Everton when they won the ball, and meant Everton could relieve the pressure slightly. Tony Hibbert on for Phil Jagielka was an even more surprising change (even if taking into consideration that Jagielka had just scored an own goal) but Hibbert managed to make two important blocks, one of which may have been with his hand.

Mancini was reluctant to make changes. Jo was introduced late on, but only when Balotelli was injured. Shaun Wright-Phillips or even Micah Richards could have been used to give some pace in wide areas; all four of Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure (in a deep role), Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany probably weren’t needed in a must-score situation.


A good victory for David Moyes. Everton outplayed City in the opening quarter of the game, and whilst they probably sat back too much for the remainder, they defended well in the penalty box. Not only did Moyes get his tactics from the outset right, he also made better use of his bench.

Based upon the balance of play, City were hard done by – but they didn’t create many clear-cut chances, and the only time they got the ball in the net was from a deflection. Tevez, in particular, had a very quiet game and others are not yet ready to step up – but perhaps the problem here was in the Tevez-dominated preparation to the game, rather than the tactics on it.

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