Referee can be crucial
Just what went through the minds of Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando in the first half is anyone’s guess. A Carl Douglas tribute band? An audition for Wrestlemania?
Everybody was kung-fu fighting in their minds. A couple of superkicks – one to Samuel Eto’o, the other to Gareth Barry – had the Blues apoplectic as Andre Marriner’s refusal to show a red card. Both were given yellows, both could have been given more.
Referees make mistakes and, at times, supporters can be too involved in maniacal conspiracy theories – but Marriner’s performance was one that genuinely changed the game.
City could have been down to 10 men by the time he awarded a soft penalty to the home side. Everton had looked comfortable until that point.
Everton could have then had a further man advantage when pressing for an equaliser. Romelu Lukaku came close, but the 11 men of City held on.
This was a time when the referee really did make a big difference. It doesn’t excuse some of the poorer elements to Everton’s play, but it wasn’t a help, either.
Good luck isn’t always welcome luck
Nobody likes to see a professional footballer injured – well, within reason – but the sight of Sergio Aguero sprawled on the turf was especially distressing to see. A player of such quality, and seemingly with such an inherent likeability, does not deserve to miss more football through injury.
But removing sentiment from the situation, it appeared the Blues were handed a boost. The pre-match talk surrounded how Aguero could be stopped; Everton were handed an answer within two minutes of (Free £25 bet offer) Kick-off.
When is a boost not really a boost, though? Aguero’s departure undoubtedly made City weaker, but it also threw the Blues’ gameplan into disarray too.
Roberto Martinez lined his side up in a 4-4-1-1 formation – a move to combat all of City’s attacking strength, but in particular the Argentine.
With Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman down the right, that pocket of space on the left which Aguero loves to occupy would have been filled by two Everton players. Aguero’s absence meant the Hibbert/Coleman tandem didn’t quite perform the function it was meant to.
Fortune can sometimes bring misfortune, as Martinez found out on Saturday.
Eto’o is a leader
Everton improved in the second half after a difficult first period – a huge reverse of fortune compared to the rest of the season – and Samuel Eto’o was central to a lot of that.
Signing the veteran striker did not just add someone with excellent ability on the ball to the Blues squad, but someone who has succeeded at the highest level because of his unwavering mental strength.
Sensing an equaliser could be on the cards, the 33-year-old drove forward. He looked to get past players with trickery, pace, intelligence. He made more dribbles than any of his team-mates – five – and kept the tempo of the team up as the game neared its end.
That was typified in the final seconds. Eto’o won a corner, sprinted to the ball behind the goal, ran to the corner flag and took it himself.
On a disappointing night, there is comfort in the presence of Eto’o – a professional until the end.
Barkley can be a game-changer
It has been a mixed few weeks for Ross Barkley, who continues to recover from the injury which saw him miss the first few months of the season.
Largely anonymous against Tottenham and Hull, Barkley found himself on the bench from the start just a day after his 21st birthday.
But his arrival reignited the Everton charge. The central midfield, which had become laboured, was alive. Despite having just 35 minutes on the pitch, he produced more successful dribbles than anyone else bar Eto’o.
Undoubtedly, he turned the game into Everton’s favour, moving about and adding zip to the middle.
The previous two of Barry and Muhamed Besic had struggled; Barry, in particular, was having a tough evening. Usually so good with the ball, he completed just 80% of his passes.
But Barkley breathed new life into everybody and demonstrated his impact can come whether starting or coming on as substitute.