Manchester City are just getting on with the job of winning football matches, and they steamrollered Everton, at The Etihad Stadium.
It’s difficult not to draw a direct comparison between the goings-on at The Etihad Stadium, as Manchester City quietly deconstructed a limited Everton team, and the high drama being played out being played out four and a half miles south-west, at Old Trafford. As Manchester United hog the headlines, Manchester City just get on with winning football matches. Their win against Everton was a dissection punctuated by two moments of brilliance by two players who aren’t quite superstars, but who both pulled something from their box of tricks that was deserving of such a status.
Considering the goings-on elsewhere, it was an oddly flat atmosphere at The Etihad for this match. As City tightened around Everton, you could hear the shouts of the players and the dull thud of the ball being passed around the pitch. There was little sense of the pulsing rivalry between two great cities, as there had been at Old Trafford, when Liverpool visited there. If anything, this felt a little like a match that no-one particularly wanted to be taking part in.
The goals themselves were both divine, but for diametrically opposing reasons. Joan Cancelo is one of the great revelations of this season, so far, a player who has come out of his shell to devastating effect. After 25 minutes, he threaded the ball through the eye of a needle in the heart of the Everton defence, perfectly weighted for Raheem Sterling to scoot through and place the ball past Jordan Pickford to give City the lead.
If there was something almost artistic about Cancelo’s opening goal, then Rodri’s second was an overt display of raw power, a perfectly placed 25 yard drive into the top corner which might well have taken Pickford’s hand clean off had he done the near-impossible and got it anywhere near the ball. This was the point at which the game effectively closed down. With 35 minutes left to play, the points were going to City. Bernardo Silva added the cherry on the cake with five minutes to play. Pep even found the time to bring on a couple of academy players, children of the revolution that is starting to look like on e of the greatest land grabs the game has ever seen.
Things had not been going well for Everton, going into this match. They lost just one of their first seven Premier League matches, but since their draw at Old Trafford at the start of October they’ve picked up just one point from their four matches, and that came at home against Tottenham Hotspur, who are just starting to disentagle themselves from the mess that they’ve come to find themselves in. Rafael Benitez is starting to be called ‘Agent Rafa’ by Liverpool supporters again, after they looked on in surprise as he first took the Everton job and then to fourth place in the table after they took ten points from their first four matches of the season.
Manchester City are starting to look ominous. Their setbacks in the league have come at unexpected times, at home against Crystal Palace and away at Spurs on the opening day of the season, but when they control a game as they did this one, they have the air of a Ferrari steamroller about them. But we might have said that prior to the Crystal Palace match, too. The question that may define the rest of their season is; how often are performances like that against Crystal Palace going to rear their heads? On the evidence of this performance and their previous win at Old Trafford, they’ve recovered from that slip-up.
And what was really striking was how little fuss they made of it all. The last time that Manchester United had a day like this was more than two months ago, on Cristiano Ronaldo’s debut against a wretched Newcastle United team. That win was comfortable, but little has been for them since. Half the wins they did get were as dependent on moments of individual brilliance as City’s was against Everton, but the difference is that City’s goals came within the framework of a brilliantly-organised team, all playing for each other, whereas Manchester United’s performances this season – and particularly since September – have had nothing else to offer apart from those moments.
Manchester City, then, just keep rolling along, and it’s now looking as though this season’s Premier League title race is going to be a three-way battle between Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. These three clubs scored ten goals without reply over the course of the same weekend, and they did so against Leicester City, Arsenal, and Everton, who we all may expect to see in the top half of the Premier League come the end of the season. This would appear to be where the gap sits between the best and the rest now, and swatting aside their opponents with ease such as City displayed against Everton, where moments of individual brilliance were part of the plan rather than the whole plan, is further proof of it.
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