Down the years Manchester City and Everton supporters have shared a fairly cordial – if uneasy - alliance, a symbiotic relationship based on common interests, namely hating their bigger, better, redder neighbours.
Granted there have been a few nasty scenes down alleyways during the dark era of hooliganism and the obligatory insults hurled from the terraces, but that’s only to be expected between the blue half of cities so close in proximity yet so different in culture and identity. Beneath all that however was always a grudging empathy of each other’s plight dwelling in the shadow of two football behemoths.
All of that changed when City struck oil and became a behemoth themselves. No more common ground. Only gloating on one side and bitter resentment on the other.
Then came the Lescott transfer saga and it all kicked off royally. Since then it’s all been rather poisonous and personal. Last season, like the season before, Bluenoses celebrated both victories over City as if they’d won the lottery. As if they’d won the cup.
Whereas we had won the lottery. And we did win the cup. Sometimes it can be a grand old life.
Those defeats still f*cking hurt though.
The hoodoo is finally lifted
As each August rolls around, before a ball is even kicked, City fans know we’ve already got a six point deficit to make up on our rivals. Because Everton – don’t ask me how because sometimes it defies all stats and logic – always succeed in doing us over. The cast may alter slightly but the script is forever the same; City enjoy most of the possession, Everton remain resolute throughout, then up pops Tim Cahill seemingly from nowhere with a headed winner before running over to our corner flag to punch the crap out of it. Classy. If the thoroughly decent and likable Aussie views these contests as pugilistic then the barnburner flurry of combinations that he exhibits certainly doesn’t do it justice. It’s good old-fashioned rope-a-dope. And City fall for it time after time.
Well no more. The hex has finally been broken. It helped that our bogeyman wasn’t lurking in the cupboard waiting for us to switch off. He was on the bench nursing an ice-pack to his shin after Kompany was unable to defy the laws of gravity after jumping out of the way of a two-footed lunge.
Space was at an absolute premium for the likes of Silva and Nasri who both buzzed throughout like wasps in a small jar.
Distin is immense
I hate to say it but he just is. You can’t go past him; his reading and positioning is never less than spot-on. So the only option is to go around him and if that route is chosen you better take a packed lunch for the journey. Aguero and Dzeko won’t get many tougher tests this season.
Rodwell too impressed. For the most part he shackled and frustrated Silva and though he occasionally had to resort to foul means it would be unfair to knock him for that when his fellow young English prospect Wilshere is lauded for having such a bite to his game.
Having attacking full-backs pays off
With the game condensed through the middle space was at an absolute premium for the likes of Silva and Nasri who both buzzed throughout like wasps in a small jar. It was always Mancini’s intention to provide width and penetration down the flanks this season by encouraging his full-backs to bomb forward at every opportunity. This was the first occasion when such ambition didn’t just provide an extra dimension to City’s attack; it was a necessity. Clichy and Richards have probably never before had such license to get forward – what was behind them? Cahill against Kompany, Lescott and Barry – and the latter in particular was once again sensational. England would hugely benefit from having this marauding beast hurtling down the right and I can only assume, if Capello overlooks him once again this term, it’s down to a conflict of personalities rather than an assessment of ability.
Mancini plays his cards right
My only criticism of Bobby Manc is that he usually leaves it too long before making key switches and his substitutions are often reactive instead of pro-active. Not yesterday. Both subs scored – which always reflects well on the manager – but more significantly the timing of Balotelli’s introduction was astute, coming at a time when the game was getting a little ragged and Dzeko’s race was run.
A 4-6-0 formation and time-wasting from the 40th minute onwards was nothing short of a disgrace.
Everton played anti-football
City have form for this themselves. Last year at the Emirates they began with no strikers on the pitch and built a road-block from the first kick to the last. They duly got widely panned for it so it’s only fair that Everton receive flak here for doing likewise.
A 4-6-0 formation and time-wasting from the 40th minute onwards was nothing short of a disgrace. There is nothing wrong with setting your stall out or parking the bus or whatever euphemism you wish to use, especially against a side who’s scored for fun of late, but when taken to such an extreme yesterday equated to football v anti-football. It was two ends of the sport’s evolutionary scale doing battle and any moral high ground Evertonians seek in their virtuous non-mercenary ways crumbled beneath their feet. The school of science? If you know your history it’s enough to make your heart sink.
Yet if Moyes has pulled off a stalemate the press would have been declaring it a tactical master class. When Mancini successfully does so however to gain an invaluable point away to a side in bitter contention for a Champions League spot he and his club are smited with a false reputation for negativity that persists even to this day. Hey-ho.
But they do it so well
There are two ways to beat Everton. One is to go toe-to-toe and match their physical style of play. The other is to zip and scheme and pass your way through. For the first hour City did neither. They moved the huge swathe of dark blue shirts across from side to side well but with such a languid pace it was all too easy to counteract and anticipate. The tempo was all wrong. Yet, that being said, Everton’s containment was astonishingly well executed. Drilled to within an inch of their lives and never once losing their shape. It took a deflection from Super Mario to finally get the breakthrough and ultimately class told. I like to think that Moyes walked dejectedly into the changing room post-match and paraphrased Brody in Jaws – ‘We’re gonna need a bigger bus’.
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