In a thrilling evening of football, Manchester City beat Everton 1-3 at Goodison Park.
The Premier League Champions once again found it tough at the back as their injury crisis continues, but going forward they were as good as they usually are. What did we learn?
1. Riyad Mahrez, we’ve been expecting you
When Manchester City signed Riyad Mahrez for an ungodly amount of money, it seemed like a totally needless purchase. This feel was increased when he spent the vast majority of his debut season as a sub. Many were keen to write him off as a flop, but what we’re seeing this season makes it clear that his struggles were merely a slow adaptation to Pep Guardiola’s system of play (much as Bernardo Silva had the year before) because this season Mahrez has been nothing short of sensational.
The Algerian started the season off the back of winning his nation the Africa Cup of Nations in the summer and he’s carried that excellence over into the campaign proper. Mahrez has been dancing with opponents, bobbing and weaving like he did back when he guided Leicester to the 2015/16 Premier League title.
Mahrez has been City’s most dangerous forward so far this season. As creative as anyone in the side bar Kevin de Bruyne. The Algerian already has three assists this season, just one off his total from the whole of last campaign. He’s been a chance-creation machine (only De Bruyne has more for City so far this season) and tonight he made the most on the pitch (5) and played a part in all three City goals.
The first goal came about because of his bafflingly brilliant run up the right side of the pitch where he skinned Lucas Digne and then played it back to De Bruyne who picked up the assist. The third goal saw Sergio Aguero fizz the ball across goal (and Raheem Sterling eventually score) but Aguero picked the ball off the toes of Mahrez who was once again torturing poor Lucas Digne.
And then the second goal, the goal that put City back into the lead, was a heart-stopping free-kick. The Algerian used the wall as a decoy and fizzed it goalkeeper’s side through a crowd of players. Pundits blamed Jordan Pickford but Mahrez thread the needle so perfectly that the England no. 1 didn’t see the ball until late and by then the ball had been hit too well for him to react in time.
Riyad Mahrez is finally showing his true class in Manchester City’s colours. It’s about damn time.
2. Fernandinho is not a centre-back
Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are out injured, Vincent Kompany has left the club, and so Nicolas Otamendi is their only recognised first-team defender. Now, Pep could have brought teenage Eric Garcia into the cauldron of the Premier League but chose not to. This meant Fernandinho got the starting spot.
Now, Fernandinho is many things and for years has been an underrated presence in midfield for Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk, but he is most assuredly not a centre-back. He lacks the stature and the mentality to do it, and we saw that against Everton at Goodison Park. City’s defence looked vulnerable whenever the Toffees pressed them, which was bad. And even when Everton were just casually passing it around Fernandinho plays the role just like he did defensive midfield, pushing forward and trying to steal the ball off the toes of unsuspecting attackers. Except that’s how Otamendi plays as well, so City are way, way too aggressive at the back.
And then when it comes to direct play Fernandinho is obviously vulnerable. Everton’s goal was a disasterpiece of defending from Fernandinho, from his weak initial clearance to the way he just sort of fell over at Alex Iwobi’s feet, allowing the ball to be squeezed through to Seamus Coleman who was then wide-open and free to chip Ederson.
Many will point to Guardiola converting Javier Mascherano to centre-back and winning both La Liga and the Champions League. But there are two differences here. The first is that Mascherano was 26 years old when Pep made that switch, not 34 as Fernandinho is. The second is that Mascherano was partnered by Gerard Piqué, one of the three best centre-backs in the world at the time. Fernandinho is partnered by Nico Otamendi.
Honestly Pep should probably either pull the trigger on young Garcia, or play Kyle Walker at centre-back next to Otamendi. Walker isn’t a centre-back either, but has the athletic qualities to at least be a decent cover man as Otamendi goes and plays the lead role (and can be covered by the excellent Joao Cancelo at right-back). He can’t leave it like this, not if he wants to win a third-straight Premier League.
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3. Same ol’ Everton
It must be frustrating being an Everton fan. The Toffees always seem to fall short no matter how many things they do right. Tonight against City the Toffees were brilliant. They defended with rigid solidity, and they were never cowed by Manchester City’s attacking brilliance. Sure they went 0-1 down and were being outplayed, but they carried on flying at City and eventually they got their rewards with an equaliser.
At 1-1 the game could have gone either way. And although City roared back, there were more than a few occasions when Ederson in the City goal had to bail City out. Everton battered City’s goal with 12 shots, 8 of them on target. That’s more than City have faced in any game so far this season, but Everton couldn’t make that pressure count. Yerry Mina had the beating of everyone in the air, yet he never scored from a set-piece. Ultimately for all their good play, the Toffees ended the night in 15th place, still stuck on seven points. Same ol’ Everton.
4. Kevin de Beckham
Kevin de Bruyne came into the game having created more chances than anyone else in the Premier League this season, so you can imagine what he did in the game right? De Bruyne’s movement into that right half-space is becoming like Arjen Robben cutting back onto his left foot. You know he’s going to do it but his movement and technique is so supreme that you can’t stop him.
No player has provided more assists after the first seven games of a Premier League season than Kevin De Bruyne (8).
Records are there to be broken in 2019/20. pic.twitter.com/4oyLoGFVFY
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 28, 2019
He’s also battling to take ownership of the first-time diagonal cross from César Azpilicueta. From today’s display you couldn’t argue that he hasn’t. When Mahrez knocked the ball back into his path De Bruyne bent a ridiculous David Beckham-esque cross in for Gabriel Jesus to score a delightfully Dwight Yorke-y style diving header. It was so, so special. De Bruyne is so, so special. Like Paul Scholes and David Beckham combined into one player. An absolute genius.
5. Exceptional Ederson
Everyone jumped on the Alisson hype train last year, and rightfully so the bearded Brazilian was and is brilliant. But City’s beardless Brazilian is arguably just as brilliant, he simply plays in a more expensive side so it’s harder for him to look quite as absurdly dominant.
Ederson’s often spoken of as a passing goalkeeper, as though he’s some kind of dainty stopper who can’t field the tough stuff. But today he faced eight shots on target, more than in any other City game under Pep Guardiola, and conceded just the one.
Ederson was simply sublime at Goodison Park. His stunning 1v1 save from Dominic Calvert-Lewin came just before City took the lead and him keeping the score down at 1-1 made such a huge difference. And then later on he dove across his goal to stop Yerry Mina’s downward header from going in, and then rose to stop Calvert-Lewin again on the rebound.
Don’t sleep on Ederson. He’s a titan.