All eyes were on Manchester City on Saturday afternoon. The reigning Premier League champions suffered their first defeat of the season last time out, going down 2-0 to Chelsea despite dominating the opening 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge.
City fell behind to the Blues when N’Golo Kante smashed a shot past Ederson on the stroke of half-time, but they were unable to find an equaliser in a rather subdued second-half showing. David Luiz doubled the hosts’ lead with a header from a corner in the , confirming City’s maiden league loss in 2018/19 after a brilliant return of 13 victories and two draws from their opening 15 encounters.
The visit of Everton this weekend was therefore always going to be significant. It is often said that you do not know how good a team is until they are forced to respond to adversity; indeed, it is always instructive to see how a side reacts after going a goal down in any given game. With Liverpool the new league leaders heading into gameweek 17, there was pressure on City to prove that the loss to Chelsea was a one-off.
That is exactly what they did last season after losing their first game to Liverpool in January: following that 4-3 reverse at Anfield, City went on to win seven of their next eight encounters in the Premier League.
Unsurprisingly, the home side dominated possession in the opening exchanges, with Everton’s nominal 3-4-3 formation usually becoming a 5-4-1 as wing-backs Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne were forced back into deep areas of the pitch. Gabriel Jesus broke the deadlock midway through the first half after a poor goal-kick from Jordan Pickford, before the Brazilian doubled the advantage five minutes after the restart.
Everton were not completely out of it, though, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s effort in the 65th minute halved the deficit and gave Marco Silva’s side a fighting chance – at least until they conceded a third goal soon after, as substitute Raheem Sterling nodded home a Fernandinho cross.
At that point City would have been expected to take the sting out of the match by keeping possession and ensuring they were not caught out in transition, but the Toffees were able to fashion some opportunities and had they been more clinical in and around the penalty area, Guardiola’s side could have been nervously holding on in the latter stages. City, it is worth pointing out, had chances of their own and perhaps could have put the game to bed earlier than they did, but Silva will have been more disappointed by his team’s goals tally at the Etihad.
“It was a tricky game coming after Hoffenheim on Wednesday. We responded well from defeat at Stamford Bridge”, Guardiola said after the match, which moved City two points above Liverpool ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s side’s meeting with fierce rivals Manchester United on Sunday afternoon.
“Sometimes you need to take time to get into a rhythm. We scored the first goal but the beginning was tough. We started the second half well, but our best moment was when we conceded a goal. They were physically strong and after 2-1 we were lucky to score a third one. We should have had more control after that. But now we have the League Cup [the holders face Leicester City in the quarter-finals on Wednesday evening) and then the Premier League and we keep going.”
There was certainly room for improvement as far as Saturday’s performance was concerned, but the most important thing was that City collected all three points to put the pressure back on Liverpool. Everton were potentially tricky opponents and Guardiola was unable to call upon the likes of David Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne from the start (the latter duo did come on as substitutes in the second half), but there was never really any danger of the home side dropping points at the Etihad for the first time this season.
City may have been beaten last weekend, but they have still enjoyed a phenomenal start to the campaign. Triumphs over Crystal Palace and Leicester City in their next two fixtures would move the champions onto 50 points at the halfway mark of the season; in other words, Guardiola’s men would be on course to match last term’s record-breaking tally of 100 points. The early signs suggest that City will be pushed much harder this time around, but their ability to bounce back after last Saturday’s rare blip bodes well for the remainder of 2018/19.
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