Where once Manchester City’s defence seemed an impenetrable wall, their back line has, at times, been very porous this season. Three games in a row they have been beaten through the middle and they have conceded seven in three, albeit with a treble scored by a very impressive Bayern side. The Citizens did seem comfortable in the second half, but this was largely down to Everton waning. Vincent Kompany’s injury, picked up after half an hour, does not appear serious, but – with Joleon Lescott, who was at fault for the goal, replacing Matija Nastasić today – it further prevents City establishing a regular centre-half pairing which is so crucial for title challengers. There were a few question marks over whether Joe Hart would start given his poor form, and some will think he could have stopped the goal, but it was a good close-range finish from Romelu Lukaku.
The decision for the penalty, which sealed the win, was much contested, but ultimately correct. There is certainly contact from Seamus Coleman, which Pablo Zabaleta probably made quite a lot. But the Argentine had got goal-side and was moving at a fair pace, so contact is likely to put him off, and it was the right decision. Roberto Martínez questioned the decision, describing it as “soft” and saying Nastasic’s hand-off on Lukaku was “more of a penalty”. But, unlike Zabaleta, the Belgian was not in a particularly threatening position, so the referee probably applied some discretion and didn’t give it – the type of contact that, in reality, is nearly always given as a free kick but rarely a penalty. While these decisions were well-reasoned, the referee was, in giving out nine yellow cards, perhaps a bit card-happy (to all but David Silva, who got away with a cynical hack on Lukaku when Everton were building a break).
Everton have blown hot and cold this season – sometimes, as in their win against Chelsea, appearing title contenders, and sometimes very mediocre – much like this game, which was, as the cliché goes, a game of two halves. In the first half, they looked very sharp – Lukaku, who José Mourinho insists he is not regretting letting go on loan was holding the line very well on his own up front, ably supported by Ross Barkley and the bright Kevin Mirallas. Granted, they conceded two goals, but these were more the result of neat City play than glaring defensive errors from Everton’s defence. In the second half, however, they looked flat, and City’s defence generally had Lukaku tamed. It will be interesting as the season goes along which Everton is more representative of Martínez’s team.
Silva’s return from injury and man-of-the-match performance here will greatly please City fans. He was superb today, with a lot of City’s play going through him as he drifted into that area between the defence and midfield which is so hard to defend, especially when exploited as expertly as Silva does. His injury problems and, by his standards, sometimes mediocre form last season was a big factor in City not winning the league, so the Spaniard’s return should strike fear into fellow title challengers – and defenders throughout the league.
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