Everton 1 Man City 1: James Milner will finally sign a new Manchester City contract in the coming days but it was the forward positions that dominated the talk, and thoughts, of manager Manuel Pellegrini after his side dropped two points at Goodison.
Pellegrini attempted to present the draw with Everton as a creditable result, given the historically tough nature of visits to that part of Merseyside. But that interpretation failed to take into account that City came up short against a Toffees team on their worst league run in a decade and also squandered a host of first-half chances.
The absence of Milner, rested because of a slight injury concern, could not be used as an excuse for such profligacy but the finishing ability, or lack thereof, of Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas, amongst others, should serve as a concern.
“We finished very badly today,” admitted the City manager. “But we were very impressive in the rest of our play. With the possession, I think we created a lot of clear chances, and a lot more moments that were not so clear. We showed we had a lot of confidence in our play.”
That confidence will rise further now that 19-goal Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero, who played just under a half hour as a substitute for the first time in a month, is available. Edin Dzeko is also poised to return from injury and £30 million Swansea forward Wilfried Bony will join City before the end of the January transfer window.
In all, that is some attacking arsenal, and one which clearly sees Jovetic, the only fit striker at City for much of the past month, fall down the pecking order.
“I don’t think it is difficult for him knowing Aguero is waiting, because he has played so well,” said Pellegrini of Jovetic. “He can play with Aguero and Dzeko also, so he knows this is a big team who has big players, and he has an opportunity in it. I think he will continue to be an important player.
“Of course with ‘Kun’ and Edin Dzeko the team will improve its performance.
“Kun’s presence is important because he can always make a difference. He can train now for the whole week, so I am sure he will return to his performance levels in the coming days, and he is a very dangerous striker.”
With Bony’s move delayed slightly by his presence on international duty with the Ivory Coast, one piece of business Pellegrini will complete in the coming days is the signing to an extended deal of England utility man James Milner, who is out of contract this summer.
Liverpool were among a number of clubs heavily linked with Milner but Pellegrini confirmed: “I hope that James will stay here and he will sign his contract in the next few days.”
City’s goal at Goodison, when it finally arrived after 75 minutes, came from midfielder Fernandinho who rose to head a deflected David Silva shot home.
But the home side, showing a vast improvement on recent weeks, equalised within three minutes when a set-piece header from Steven Naismith exposed poor marking and unsteady goalkeeping from Joe Hart.
Nevertheless, despite such a battling performance, Everton actually moved closer to the relegation zone due to results elsewhere, and were left just three points above 18th-placed Hull.
“We don’t look at the table because we have never created any momentum this season,” said manager Roberto Martinez. “The performance today was a real positive.
“But you can see the enjoyment is coming back for the players. You have to play for a scoreline as well and getting that balance right is important. You shouldn’t get too affected by a defeat or carried away by a victory but overall that platform is what you need in any good team, especially when you go a goal down, especially against a team where it would be easy to be exposed.”
That Everton spirit and performance handed advantage — this week at least — to Chelsea in a title race gearing up nicely for a grandstand finale that brought City their first championship three years ago. Martinez understandably finds it hard to separate the two teams although the Everton manager made an important point that the clubs’ respective endeavours in the Champions League could yet be the deciding factor in the identity of the champions in 2015.
“I will get into trouble!” joked Martinez when asked to place a bet on who will win the title. “They are teams with similar philosophies, well-structured and with an amazing goalscoring threat. You see how they use space — City with Nasri and Silva, and then Aguero and Wilfried Bony coming. They can’t play with 12 but what happens in Europe will play a big part because of the energy levels. Both squads are as good as each other.”
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Robles 6; Coleman 5, Jagielka 5, Stones 7, Baines 7; Barry 6, Besic 5; McGeady 5 (Mirallas 77, 6), Naismith 8, Barkley 7; Lukaka 7.
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 5; Zabaleta 6, Mangala 5, Demichelis 7, Clichy 7; Fernandinho 7 (Lampard 82), Fernando 7; Navas 6, Silva 8, Nasri 7 (Kolarov 90); Jovetic 5 (Aguero 66, 6).
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
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