Nothing but a win will do against Evertonon Saturday lunchtime.
It’s a good job that David Moyes is attracting negative attention for his struggles across the city. Moyes’ labours have allowed Manuel Pellegrini to escape undue pressure for away defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa. Any more early slipups and not even Man Utd’s struggles will be able to deflect the questions about another stagnating title bid.
The Everton game is one City have to win. A performance would be a bonus but a win is essential. Because of their away form nothing else will do. At the moment City are a different prospect at the Etihad, close to unstoppable when the mood takes them. The game against United is a case in point. They scored from their first four shots on target. They outran, outpassed and outplayed the champions. The difference between the teams in performance, desire and ability was staggering. And then the game after they somehow contrived to lose to a Villa team without their best player. In a season that promises to be tighter than ever every win could be crucial. City will have to sort out their away form to win the league. If they want to have the chance to do that they have to keep winning their home games.
Doing so against the last unbeaten team in the league won’t be straightforward. The game promises to be tighter than most would have predicted at the start of the season. Gone are the days that this fixture had a grudge match feel to it, when the nouveau riche City signed Lescott despite Moyes’ objections over how it was handled and got thoroughly up Everton’s noses. Financially the difference between the oil rich City and the poorest (comparatively) of the top teams is stark. Everton have always come across as bitter and more than a little jealous about that. In their most lucid moments they’d admit that they’d love for someone with megabucks to come and be their benefactor. For whatever reason, it ain’t happening.
It should be fascinating on Saturday. Both teams have started taking very good care of the ball. After six Premier League games Everton are averaging 59.4% possession and Man City 54.7%, both comfortably in the top five. Interestingly City average more possession away from home and the most they’ve had all season was in their 3-2 loss away to Cardiff, presumably due to ineffectively chasing the game. In their 4-1 defeat of Man Utd they had only 45%. They would appear to be more dangerous when they’re more direct.
Man City are still adjusting to the change in style implemented by Pellegrini, placing more emphasis on attack. They play closer to 4-4-2 than anything else. When it clicks it’s impressive. When it doesn’t it looks terribly flat. It trusts Fernandinho and Yaya Toure to dominate central midfield with little assistance. A few games a season Yaya could do this on his own. A few times already this season he’s almost had to. Fernandinho is taking time to settle. Bluntly he currently does not look like a £30 million pound player. In the system they play they can’t afford him to take time to settle. Pellegrini is also getting used to the particular demands of the Premier League. Their two defeats so far have come the weekend before Champions League games. After their humbling by Bayern Munich they need a reaction. And all eyes will be on Joe Hart. After the last few games there’ll be a sharp intake of breath every time an effort trickles towards his near post. It’ll be tense.
For Everton Gareth Barry will be a big loss (the terms of his loan from City mean he won’t play). To get a player with his experience and desire to prove he still belongs at the top level for free was one of the signings of the window. He was the best player on the pitch in their win against Chelsea and not just for his unbelievable block to stop Eto’o scoring. In his place presumably Martinez will give James McCarthy a start. How he clicks with young player of the season so far Ross Barkley will be key. In their previous games Barkley has given Everton an extra dimension going forward. His interplay with Lukaku on Monday against Newcastle was as if they’d been playing together for years. His playing time so far this season far outstrips the last player to move between the clubs before Barry, Jack Rodwell. So far Everton have undoubtedly got the better end of that deal. With rumours of Barkley already being targeted by a bigger club you’d have to hope that he looks at what has happened to Rodwell and many others (cough, Scott Sinclair, cough) and decides to stay put. He’s unlikely to find anyone who’ll give him as many chances as Martinez.
The most impressive thing about Martinez’s start at Everton has been how consistent it’s been, which after his stint at Wigan precisely no one saw coming. Losing to teams they should beat, yes. Beating teams they should lose to, yes. But unbeaten after six games, never. If they get away from the Etihad with the record still intact a great start will become even better. They’ve proven so far that they’re newly hard to beat. They should prove a stern test for City’s title ambitions.
And that’s before we even start thinking about the main issue on Saturday, who out of Yaya and Leyton Baines will score the best free-kick? In a league where free-kicks have suddenly started flying in the chance to see two of its finest proponents on the same pitch is too good to pass up. That of course means they’ll get nowhere near shooting range for seventy minutes and then shank a couple into row Z. That’s just how it works.
Now that sacking season has officially begun you have to wonder who’ll be next? Although given that Di Canio lasted six games they’re a little late in kicking it off this year. Even in the Bundesliga, the nice, safe, sustainable, ethically sourced Bundesliga, two managers had been given the boot by the time PDC got his marching orders. It’s either a sporadic outbreak of common sense or more likely everyone in the Premier League is about where they expect to be. Bookmakers have Martin Jol the favourite to go next (mind you they also have Steve Bruce at the same odds as Arsene Wenger). You’d think his collection of languid geniuses (and Darren Bent) need to click soon. Next his Alan Pardew, who since Joe Kinnear took the big office up the hall has the air of a man constantly mentally filling in a constructive dismissal claim. Newcastle also were forced to release a statement denying that he’d offered his resignation after the Everton defeat. Watch this space. Chris Houghton would have been in the mix before his team won at Stoke. Really there’s been markedly less speculation than previous years, even counting all the #MoyesOut stuff. It could be that managers are being given time, that after the mad dash to stay in touch with the increase in TV money last season that clubs have decided to give their bosses time. Or we could get two or three this month. For what it’s worth I’d have half an eye on Ian Holloway. He’s coming across as madder than usual, was cracking up day one and managers have been sacked for the crime of getting promoted before. Stick a fiver on Ollie and Pards.
So Liverpool have begun to bravely break the ubiquity of the back four has over English football and started experimenting with 3-5-2. Just as Wigan did last season to somewhat less acclaim. The best thing about the coverage they’ve received is that this might end up helping to break up the hegemony of 4-2-3-1. Any formation is only as good as the personnel you’ve got to fill it. At the moment Liverpool’s best chance of getting the best out their players is with both Sturridge and Suarez as out and out strikers. The only way to do that without sacrificing control in midfield is to play three at the back. The only player it really doesn’t suit is Victor Moses. Behind the strikers he doesn’t really have the room to use his pace. With Liverpool sitting in second and Coutinho still to come back into his favourite position they might really click.
De Bruyne Questions Inevitable
It was always going to happen. Jose can glare and stamp his feet and storm out over questions asked about players who don’t play as much as he wants, when you’ve got a squad as overstocked in certain areas as Chelsea’s is it’s inevitable that they’ll keep coming. When you’ve got so many players not playing people will talk about them. Normally Jose insists on a small squad with two players for every position on the basis that bigger ones are easy to lose control of. In this and so many other things you can’t helping thinking that Jose 1.0 wouldn’t have let himself get in this position.