Football Features

Phil Foden keeps Man City in control of Premier League title race despite worst half of season

By Harry Edwards

Published: 20:01, 26 February 2022

Manchester City put in what many would call a performance of champions as they beat Everton 1-0 on Saturday to stay in control of the Premier League title race.

Title-winning sides aren’t often defined by the 6-0 and 7-0 thrashings that they bring out against poor teams but by the victories when they themselves are struggling to perform. And that was exactly the case for Pep Guardiola’s side at Goodison Park.

It was not a good performance for Man City and for 81 minutes of the game it looked as though the win would not come. In fact, the first half was Man City’s worst of the season so far.

In the opening 45 minutes, Man City struggled to make the most of their 65% possession with just five shots and only two on target. But those shots weren’t truly testing.

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The Expected Goal tally for Man City in the first half was as low as 0.16 (compared to Everton’s 0.51), their worst in a single Premier League half this season.

Their previous worst half was the second 45 minutes against Aston Villa at the start of December, when they recorded an xG of just 0.28 in a 2-1 victory. Man City’s previous worst xG in a Premier League first half was 0.32 in two separate games, first against Crystal Palace in October, a match they lost 2-0, and then vs Arsenal on New Year’s Day when their second-half performance helped them come from behind to win 2-1.

And it was a second-half performance that mattered on Saturday. Man City recorded an xG of 1.91 in the second half at Goodison Park, their fifth-best return after half-time in the Premier League this season and, of course, they got that all important one goal.

It did come through a bit of fortune as Bernardo Silva’s first was deflected twice into the path of Phil Foden, right in front of Jordan Pickford. But the Englishman still had to keep his cool to round his compatriot and put Man City 1-0 up.

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Man City have now scored 34 second-half goals in the Premier League this season at an average of 1.26 per game, with only Liverpool (1.38) averaging more. And Guardiola was thankful for a bit of good fortune.

“The second half was much better for the consequences of the first half,” he told Sky Sports.

“Goodison Park for us is always so difficult. Good victory, another step. In general we controlled in the second half, not a lot because it was not possible but the second half much, much better.

“When the opponent decides the striker to mark the holding midfielder close to the 18-yard box it is difficult with the spaces. Everton make a moment. It is difficult, we knew it. I said to the guys at half time they are doing well and be patient and we will find the moment.

“We did everything to win. When you have that the manager will be alongside the players that is for sure. Have to try again and try again and in the end Phil was there and score.

“We were searching. We tried and we were there. We earned the good fortune. Everton has top players. Their quality is there, we knew it.”

Man City are now six points clear at the top of the Premier League table but second-placed Liverpool do have a game in hand over the league leaders – and there is that clash at the Etihad to come in April.