MAN CITY 3, EVERTON 1
As one observer succinctly observed, Manchester City hardly moved out of second gear in defeating Everton at the Etihad to move back to the top of the Premier League.
City weren’t unduly stretched against Everton who had become something of a bogey side in recent years – before this game they had beaten the Toffees twice in seven league and cup matches.
Pep Guardiola had also failed to beat Everton in both home games since he became City manager.
City’s victory, courtesy of two goals from Gabriel Jesus and one from Raheem Sterling, addressed that statistic.
Everton, with only one win in their last six games, posed more of a threat than most visiting teams as they created some excellent chances.
But their Achilles heel was their defending that was decidedly poor as they allowed Jesus and Sterling, two of the smallest players on the field, to score with close-range headers.
It was satisfying for City, however, as they responded to the defeat at Chelsea last Saturday with two emphatic victories against Hoffenheim in the Champions League and Everton.
City’s manager said: “It was a tricky, dangerous game coming three days after the Hoffenheim game.
“It was not over until the end and the players were incredible human beings to win the game.”
Guardiola explained why he was so animated early in the game.
“Of course we can improve. The space was there to attack more, but we did not find them today,” he explained.
City’s manager had praise for Sterling in the wake of the furore of him being racially abused at Chelsea.
He said: “I have seen him so calm. He has handled the last years when there has been so many rumours and not nice things said about him, his family, the colour of his skin.
“I admire him because it has not been easy for him, but his big love is playing football, the players, locker room and his mates.”
Everton manager Marco Silva admitted City deserved to win but rued the chances his side missed.
“Richarlison had a big, big chance when it was goalless. We had chances to score more goals and we have to score and may be it would have been a different score.”
City made four changes from the sides that started again in midweek in the Champions League.
Kyle Walker, Fabian Delph, Fernandinho and Riyad Mahrez won recalls at the expense of John Stones, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Sterling and Phil Foden.
More significant, however, was the presence of Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne on the bench on their returns from injury.
Everton made two changes as Kurt Zouma and Dominic Calvert-Lewin replaced midfield anchorman Idrissa Gueye and Theo Walcott.
It was clear from the start this would be no walk in the park for City as Everton’s high-pressing game denied them the time to dictate and dominate as they usually do.
Everton ought to have taken the lead after quarter of an hour when Richarlison disappointingly volleyed over from seven yard when he should have converted a left-wing cross from Lucas Digne.
City eventually got into their stride and almost took the lead when Everton defender Michael Keane almost scored an own goal as he diverted an Ilkay Gundogan cross, but keeper Jordan Pickford pulled off a superb save.
It was only a temporary reprieve as City made a 22nd minute breakthrough after a poor defensive clearance.
Gundogan and Leroy Sane set up Jesus who slotted a low shot past Pickford for his sixth goal of the season and first in the Premier League for four months and 12 appearances.
City almost doubled their lead after 40 minutes when Mahrez’s shot forced a fine save from Pickford.
A second goal came five minutes after the restart when Jesus found the net again, this time with a free header from seven yards into the roof of the net from Sane’s cross.
Jesus had a chance to complete his hat-trick, but fired narrowly wide at the near post.
Everton halved the deficit midway through the second half after a poor clearance clearance from Nicolas Otamendi.
Lucas Digne crossed from the left and Calvert-Lewin headed home from six yards.
City brought on Sterling for Sane and within four minutes he found the net to restore the two-goal advantage.
A delightful inter-change of passes between Jesus and Fernandinho set up the goal with the latter’s cross headed home by Sterling from inside six-yard box.
Everton had two gilt-edged chances to reduce the deficit when Richarlison shot narrowly over from the edge of the box and Walcott had an effort deflected over the bar.
De Bruyne made his comeback with 15 minutes left when he replaced Mahrez.
Everton had other great chances as Calvert-Lewin’s cheeky back heel forced a decent diving save from Ederson and Richarlison’s shot deflected for a corner as Everton remained a threat.