A fixture that has had a familiar feel in recent years should take a different complexion tomorrow, when Manchester City face Everton at the Etihad Stadium.
Since 2009, whilst City and Everton were managed by Roberto Mancini and David Moyes respectively, there was something of a repetitive feel to the fixtures between the two sides. David Moyes’ side repeatedly got the better of Mancini’s men, despite the enormous gap in resources between the two clubs. During this period City only managed a single victory and a single draw against the Toffees, with five defeats.
Since then, Roberto Mancini has been replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, and David Moyes has left Everton for Manchester United, making Saturday’s fixture the most unpredictable between these two sides for a long time. Roberto Martinez, who replaced Moyes in the summer, also masterminded Wigan Athletic’s famous victory against City in the FA Cup final last season, adding another layer to the intrigue to this fixture.
Martinez has made an excellent start to life at Everton, with his side the only remaining unbeaten team in the Premier League. That record should face a close examination on Saturday however, as, for all City’s away woes so far under Pellegrini, they remain a formidable outfit at the Etihad, having taken 31 points from a possible 35 in 2013.
The main team news from Everton’s point of view involves their two excellent deadline day acquisitions.
Romelu Lukaku has been in electric form for the Toffees so far since making his loan move from Chelsea, leading to a great deal of head scratching in West London as to why arguably their best striker has been allowed to go on loan, with the out of sorts Demba Ba and Fernando Torres retained. Lukaku is all but certain to start against tomorrow, and should his Belgian national team mate Vincent Kompany miss the game for some reason, the City defence can expect an unpleasant afternoon.
Everton’s other deadline day signing, Gareth Barry, on loan from City, will miss the game due to the rules regarding on-loan players facing their parent club in the Premier League.
This will be a great loss for Roberto Martinez’s side, as Barry, who recently reached an impressive 500 Premier League appearances, has been in excellent form since joining Everton. In a similar way to Lukaku, many City fans are puzzled as to why Javi Garcia has been retained and Barry, a stalwart in the Blues 2012 Premier League win, has been allowed to go out on loan.
City’s side should include a number of ‘back-up’ players, though the Blues’ squad is so deep these days that such a statement is hardly an indictment. The game against Bayern Munich in he Champions League is so glamourous that the likes of Stevan Jovetic, James Milner and Micah Richards can have reasonable hopes of a starting place.
Both Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Martinez are known for attractive, possession based football so football purists can look forward to an interesting tactical battle and a good spectacle.
This is not to suggest that Martinez will set up his team in a gung-ho fashion though, few teams can afford to go to the Etihad set up like that nowadays. Perhaps Martinez can take a few tips from his compatriot Pep Guardiola, and take pointers from how he sets up his Bayern Munich team in midweek.
Despite Everton’s excellent form, Gareth Barry is a big loss for them, as he has been a hugely calming presence alongside the more precocious talents of Ross Barkley and James McCarthy this season. The loss of Marouane Fellaini to City’s rivals compounds this issue, as he has always had a huge influence on the midfield battle in this fixture in recent seasons. It will be a close affair, but I expect City to claim the three points, though not without difficulty.