For the second straight season at the Etihad, Everton emerged both disappointed and pleased with a 1-1 draw. Like Nolito in 2016, Raheem Sterling cancelled out the Toffees’ opener – one of the most momentous goals in top flight history in fact as Wayne Rooney became Alan Shearer’s only co-member of the 200 Premier League goals club. Epitomised by his goal, Rooney’s combination with Dominic Calvert-Lewin was the high-point for Everton.

Rooney7

Strike partnerships are rare in the Premier League, rarer still at Everton where there are often too few frontmen to permit one. Imagine the delight then to discover the Blues’ only fit strikers were capable of forging one as part of a defensive setup away at Manchester City. Calvert-Lewin’s eagerness to create and Rooney’s desperation to score has provided Everton with a route to goal and the man to finish. Two league games, two goals for the duo, with both also contributing in Europe.

The goal marked a notable in-game progression for Calvert-Lewin. The first time he broke behind City’s back three, stranded, he fired from outside the box. A good effort but a poor choice. Next up, he isolated John Stones before retreating sensibly to find the onrushing Tom Davies who fired wide. The right choice but too far from goal. Finally, after using Mason Holgate to get into a better position, Calvert-Lewin made the right contribution in the right area: a quick ball allowed Rooney to fully exploit Stones’ indecision and slot home calmly.

For all Calvert-Lewin’s endeavour, Guardiola’s defensive uncertainty was arguably the biggest factor in the goal. Just before kick off, he opted for Leroy Sane ahead of Danilo at left wing-back, a risk he further complicated by switching his centre-backs with less than half an hour gone. Minutes later, Sane conceded possession, Vincent Kompany overcompensated with a foolish rush towards the ball, Stones failed to spot/ react to Rooney, prompting Ederson to make a handling error to mar his home debut. All round it was a horror show, a goal top clubs just shouldn’t concede. And then, just before half-time, it got worse.

Kyle Walker received the second of two quick yellow cards for an elbow he appeared to throw, but on closer inspection, did not. A first booking for a lunge on Leighton Baines was instantly compounded when the Everton man returned the favour but won the ball. Walker charging angrily towards Bobby Madley was unlikely to have played too well moments later when the referee assessed his movement towards Calvert-Lewin. The latter part of the half saw Koeman’s side upgrade a decent defensive shift to a lead with a man advantage.

Midfield shield

Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin both committed ridiculous challenges in the first seven minutes, the latter’s punished with a yellow card. It set a worrying tone with David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne scuttling about but both Everton men proved capable of relentless man-to-man marking jobs. Only late on as Sterling arrived to volley Holgate’s poor header past Jordan Pickford were both men fatally exposed. A naive lunge from Schneiderlin on Sergio Aguero provoked the second dubious dismissal of the evening, but the Frenchman’s defensive contribution will have hugely encouraged Koeman.

As a result of Walker’s red card and his initial misjudgement, Guardiola switched to 4-4-1 after the break. When Koeman reacted, he went 4-4-1-1 with Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson on after 60 minutes to beef up midfield. Had Holgate headed away from danger, had Gueye or Schneiderlin been more alert, it may have proved a masterstroke. Alas, City got the equaliser their gutsy attacking had certainly warranted. Nevertheless, this is much better from Koeman who was incredibly weak away at the top six last year.

Calvert-Lewin

Everton made incremental gains from last year’s Etihad encounter. The Blues conceded two fewer shots on target (6), saw more of the ball (35%) and kept it more effectively. Jagielka conceded two penalties last time, but twice outsmarted Aguero with the goal at his mercy here. Calvert-Lewin was repeatedly freed to target City’s weak left side. Granted City had 10 men, but many were exceptionally gifted attackers who will tear most teams to shreds this season.

It was however an approach only made successful by a 20-year-old’s ability to bully three centre-backs. Calvert-Lewin ran Stones ragged in the first half exposing him for the goal, forced Kompany into two reckless lunges, and had Nicolas Otamendi exaggerating a facial injury to get him sent off (somewhat ironically). Calvert-Lewin might struggle to replicate that against better defences, but if he continues to combine effectively with Rooney, he’ll surely be afforded plenty of opportunities.
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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789

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