City crush tooth­less Tof­fees to set up sweet­est of coro­na­tions

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - JIM WHITE

Ever­ton Manch­ester City

NO won­der Manch­ester City’s trav­el­ling hordes were singing Pep Guardi­ola’s name at the end of this sump­tu­ous dis­man­tling of a pedes­trian Ever­ton side. With the ac­crual of yet another three points, Guardi­ola has of­fered up his club’s sup­port­ers the most de­li­cious pos­si­bil­ity: next Satur­day they can not only win the Premier League, they can do so against their Man­cu­nian ri­vals. Beat­ing United to se­cure the ti­tle: it was some­thing not even the most fer­vent blue would have dared dream about when their team was in League One less than two decades ago.

This vic­tory was all the more up­lift­ing be­cause Guardi­ola had ar­rived at Good­i­son fac­ing an odd sta­tis­ti­cal quirk: un­til to­day, Ever­ton were the only Premier League team he had not de­feated. More­over, it was here last Jan­uary that he suf­fered his worst de­feat as a man­ager, los­ing 4-0.

Within mo­ments of the kick off here though, Guardi­ola’s team be­gan to un­leash their in­tri­cate pass­ing move­ments as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Ra­heem Ster­ling ex­changed seem­ingly radar-as­sisted one-twos. No more than four min­utes had elapsed be­fore Aymeric La­porte, drafted in at left back, re­versed a lovely pass to­wards the line. David Silva gal­loped for­ward, gath­ered the ball, and sent it fizzing to the back post, where Leroy Sane volleyed home. There is no other term for his fin­ish, for the way he di­verted the ball goal­wards with a swish of his left foot, than sub­lime.

“So now you’re gonna be­lieve us, we’re go­ing to win the league,” chanted the vis­it­ing fans. In truth, it has not taken the great­est act of faith to be­lieve the ti­tle has been head­ing in the di­rec­tion of the Eti­had since early in the sea­son.

What has been upped in the 14 months since Guardi­ola suf­fered his record de­feat at Good­i­son is pre­ci­sion. For City ev­ery­thing now moves with a well-oiled cer­tainty. Ev­ery­one knows where each other is. Space is con­jured out of the tight­est of cir­cum­stance. Plus these days, in Eder­son, they have a goal­keeper rather than the ac­ci­dent wait­ing

Bravo.

For sure, Ever­ton had chances but some­how even to demon­strate re­sis­tance was to pro­voke the vis­i­tors. Af­ter a Yan­nick Bo­lasie chance was squan­dered, City broke from the goal-kick, the ball find­ing its way to De Bruyne to the side of the Ever­ton area. So many col­leagues had charged for­ward with him, he ap­peared to have half a dozen pur­ple shirts to find. He chose Gabriel Je­sus, who put City two up af­ter 13 min­utes.

By now a rip­ple of alarm was shud­der­ing through the stands ev­ery time City eased for­wards. You could un­der­stand why. Wayne Rooney and Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin were of­fer­ing all to hap­pen that was Clau­dio the re­sis­tance of a pair passed round at will.

With Guardi­ola watch­ing on beam­ing, City were now in demon­stra­tion mode, find­ing space in the tight­est of cir­cum­stance, mov­ing the ball for­ward at pace, their pres­sure re­lent­less. Silva forced Jor­dan Pick­ford to save, Ster­ling fired wide. In com­par­i­son, Ever­ton looked laboured and clue­less.

This was not a con­test, it was a hu­mil­i­a­tion. There were empty seats ap­pear­ing in the Sir Philip Carter stand as early as half-an-hour in, as Ever­ton fans in num­bers evac­u­ated the scene of em­bar­rass­ment. So at least they missed the third City goal scored be­fore half­time, when another jet-heeled counter- of traf­fic cones, at­tack re­sulted in Silva Ster­ling to fire home.

Jur­gen Klopp’s eyes and ears at Good­i­son at least will have an idea from the first half what not to do when Liver­pool play City in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal next week. Do not, for in­stance, al­low David Silva the free­dom of Stan­ley Park; do not sit back and hope some­thing might hap­pen; do not un­der­staff your cen­tral mid­field.

And as the sec­ond half be­gan, the pat­tern was main­tained. But the ar­rival of Tom Davies, re­plac­ing Rooney, of­fered the vaguest of hope to the crowd. On the 63rd minute he did some­thing none of his col­leagues had man­aged in the first half: he put in a tackle. The ball broke to cross­ing for Calvert Lewin, who found Bo­lasie on the edge of the City area. His shot squirmed past Eder­son, off the post into the net.

Not that Guardi­ola looked alarmed about the pos­si­bil­ity of the most un­ex­pected of come­backs. He knew he could rely on his play­ers to main­tain pos­ses­sion, keep Ever­ton at arm’s length, en­sure no dis­as­ter would en­sue.

There was a sense of his cer­tainty when he sub­sti­tuted De Bruyne to pre­serve his limbs for more im­por­tant Mersey­side ap­point­ments ahead. The Bel­gian re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion from the home crowd as he made his way to the dugout. At Good­i­son they ap­pre­ci­ate class, even when it wears op­po­si­tion colours.

Ever­ton’s Sea­mus Cole­man tus­sles for pos­ses­sion with Manch­ester City’s Leroy Sane at Good­i­son Park

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