Jesus among the scorers – and Guardiola’s men will secure title on Saturday if they beat rivals United
No wonder Manchester City’s travelling hordes were singing Pep Guardiola’s name at the end of this sumptuous dismantling of a pedestrian Everton.
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. Not to mention that before they will be playing Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals.
“Now we are closer than ever, today was so, so good,” said Guardiola. “But all decisions we are going to take now are about Liverpool. United can wait.”
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.
The suggestion before kick-off was this might be the place that slowed down his march to ascendancy. Such assertions did not last long. Never mind illegal tampering, or a generous application of sandpaper, this City side appear to have the ball hypnotised.
Within moments of the kick-off, Guardiola’s team began to unleash their intricate passing movements as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling exchanged seemingly radar-assisted onetwos. No more than four minutes had elapsed before Aymeric Laporte, drafted in at left-back, reversed a lovely pass to the byline. Silva galloped forward, gathered the ball and sent it fizzing to the back post, where Leroy Sane volleyed home.
“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 the early days of the season.
What has been upped in the 14 months since Guardiola suffered his record defeat 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 an accident waiting to happen that was Claudio Bravo.
For sure, Everton had chances: Dominic Calvert-Lewin accelerated to the byline and put over a fine cross which Yannick Bolasie headed over. But somehow even to demonstrate resistance was to provoke the visitors. After that 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 12 minutes.
By now a ripple of alarm was shuddering through the stands every time City eased forwards. You could understand why. In central midfield Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin were offering all the resistance of a pair of traffic cones, passed round at will.
City were now in demonstration mode, moving the ball forward at pace, their pressure relentless. First Silva forced Jordan Pickford to save, then Sterling fired wide. In comparison, Everton looked laboured: the freekick that Leighton Baines, making his 400th Premier League appearance, fired just wide seemed a total irrelevance. As City passed and moved, when the ball fell to a blue shirt they seemed clueless of what best to do with it. At one point Calvert-Lewin ballooned forward a hitand-hope pass to Cenk Tosun in the urge to relieve the pressure. The Turk could do nothing with his hoof.
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 counterattack resulted in Silva crossing for Sterling to fire home. And there was no comfort for the fans bellowing that Silva was offside as he broke through unmolested by any Everton interference. Replays showed he was not gifted any unfair advantage by a sleepy linesman: he was just way too quick in thought and application for anyone in blue.
Jurgen Klopp’s scouts at Goodison at least will have an idea from the first half what not to do when Liverpool play City next week. Do not, for instance allow Silva the freedom of Stanley Park; do not sit back and hope something might happen; do not try to stop a tidal wave by deploying in central midfield a superannuated converted striker and the one Southampton player Liverpool did not consider worth buying.
And as the second half began, the pattern was maintained. Pickford was required to make a superb one-handed save from Fernandinho’s shot, then Sterling fired a perfect cross in front of the Everton goal, but nobody could convert.
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: he put in a tackle. The ball broke to Calvert-Lewin, who found Bolasie on the edge of the City area. His shot squirmed past Ederson, off the post and 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 conserve energy for more important Merseyside appointments ahead. The Belgian received a sizeable ovation from the home crowd. At Goodison they appreciate class. Though Guardiola joked there may have been another motive.
“Maybe it is because we are about to play Liverpool,” he smiled.
On a roll: Jesus celebrates scoring Manchester City’s second goal at Goodison Park yesterday, keeping Pep Guardiola’s side 16 points clear of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table
One, two, three: Leroy Sane (top), Gabriel Jesus (bottom left) and Raheem Sterling (bottom right) score for Manchester City as manager Pep Guardiola looks on (inset)