Manchester City hosted Everton in the second leg of the Capital One Cup at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night. The Citizens had lost the first leg 2-1 at Goodison Park.
Pellegrini opted for what appeared to be a 4-2-3-1 on paper, but really it was something that looked more like a 4-3-1-2, with Raheem Sterling up front alongside Sergio Aguero, a pairing he has favoured recently, with David Silva just behind them and Yaya Toure at the base of a 3-man midfield with Fernandinho and Fabian Delph.
Roberto Martinez started Leon Osman on the left side of midfield and Ross Barkley played just behind Romelu Lukaku in a 4-4-1-1.
City dominate possession, Everton threaten on the counter attack
The match was played almost exclusively in Everton’s half, with City dominating possession. However, this left City exposed on the counter attack, and that was precisely how Everton took the lead in this match, although they had threatened a couple of times even before Barkley’s solo effort opened the scoring, which had come after Everton won the ball and then counter attacked effectively.
I would particularly like to highlight one of Everton’s early chances on the counter attack; it came around the fourth minute and had quite an impact on the movement of Clichy throughout after. Clichy had gone up to support a City attack but when the move had ended with Everton winning the ball back, the away side sprung forward and Gerard Deulofeu went on a spectacular run that almost resulted in a goal, and highlighted all of the Spaniard’s best attributes. From then on, Clichy rarely ever ventured forward, wary of the threat posed by Deulofeu when the winger has space to run into. Also, it is important to note that it was Martin Demichelis who would – and in that instance was – covering for the French full back and was completely destroyed by Deulofeu.
Everton’s defensive structure and attacking transition
Usually when a team’s shape in defence resembles two banks of four, the two forwards are allowed a certain degree of passivity as it were, and this match was no different. This is done so that there is an out ball for the team to play out of pressure and get to the opponent’s goal as quickly as possible; the fact that there are two players tasked with this is so that the lone centre forward is not isolated against, generally speaking, the two centre backs of the opposition.
While, Ross Barkley is certainly talented enough to exploit this in support of Lukaku, as his goal showed, it might have proved equally useful if occasionally it was Deulofeu who was given this slightly freer role. How this would work is that Barkley would then slot between Barry and Cleverley, pushing the latter towards the flank and freeing up Deulofeu, who could then have used his speed and trickery to cause problems for City’s defence.
This would also have been an interesting development if it had happened more often, as then Deulofeu might very possibly have dragged one of the centre backs out towards the flank and been able to isolate them. It did actually happen once in the match when Deulofeu had drifted to Everton’s left flank – this would result in a better chance of dragging one of the centre backs out wide since Zabaleta was pushing up more often than Clichy mainly due to the former generally being better at attacking than Clichy – and almost skipped past Otamendi, but the Argentine had time his tackle well and avoided any complications that City might have faced.
The Toffees employed a form of man-marking to stifle their opponents. It wasn’t the kind of man-marking where each player had the task of following his opposite number wherever he went on the pitch; that is, after all, an obsolete defensive strategy.
No, instead Martinez gave certain players the responsibility of marking their opposite number, but not to leave their zones if said player drifted to another area of the pitch, while others were not tasked with marking anyone in particular. The two wingers were a fine example of this: Osman was tasked with tracking Zabaleta and ensuring that he and any one of City’s attackers were not allowed to gain a 2v1 against Baines.
Deulofeu on the other hand was not given the same responsibility, as his very presence on Everton’s right flank ensured that Clichy would not push up as much Zabaleta. However, he still needed to track back occasionally due to the roaming of the likes of Silva, Delph and Sterling out to that area where John Stones, the right back, was. He also couldn’t remain as high up the pitch as Lukaku because of this, as he had to maintain his team’s shape, which was a pretty compact two banks of four.
As a side note, the third, and decisive, goal for City on the night highlighted the problems within the marking strategy that Everton employed. After a corner was cleared away, Everton’s defence pushed up to the edge of the penalty area, just on the line of the penalty area, which in fact is a form of organising the defence that Pellegrini also favours. In this case, Jagielka followed his man, Fernandinho, after the ball was whipped in, which meant that Aguero was no longer offside and able to nod in with relative ease for a striker of his quality. If Jagielka had not followed Fernandinho then Aguero would have been offside, but it also highlights the problem that arises from holding a defensive line right on the line of the penalty area, which makes it easier for the striker to measure the timing of his run.
Pellegrini’s substitutions win the match
At half time Pellegrini took off Delph for Jesus Navas, and the introduction of the former Sevilla player was like a shot in the arm for City. His direct play caused many problems for Everton. The difference from the first half was that now Navas would, for the most part, hug the touchline, bringing his direct opponent, Baines, closer to him and creating space between the left back and his closest team mate in the four man defence, the left sided centre back Phil Jagielka. Jagielka would not come across to fill that gap, presumably this is because that’s how Martinez wants his defence to play. I am guessing that he probably would have wanted one of his central midfielders to cover that space, but due to Fernandinho and Silva, in particular, often coming to City’s left flank to combine with Navas and Zabaleta this was not possible as Everton’s central midfielders had been drawn to said player i.e. Silva and Fernandinho.
Kevin De Bruyne’s introduction saw him put City in front on the night and level in the tie, albeit in controversial circumstances. The Belgian replaced Yaya Toure, who’s influence on the match was waning from his deeper position; in my opinion, the Ivorian is much better suited to playing higher up the pitch when City face opponents that concede possession to them, but I digress. De Bruyne, apart from the goal, also help City’s use of the ball, with good combination plays with Silva, Aguero et al. It was also his wonderful cross that provided the assist for Aguero to nod home and send City on their way to the final at Wembley.
City dominated possession but were certainly given a few scares along the way. They now are in the final and face Liverpool, but the extent of De Bruyne’s injury will surely be a worry. Fortunately, Aguero seems to be hitting form at just the right moment, considering how much City rely on him. Everton will be more than a little disappointed to have missed out on a Merseyside derby in the final, especially since they took the lead in the match, could have avoided the third goal and were unlucky to have conceded the other two.