Je­sus dou­ble strike sees City back on the sum­mit

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - JAMIE JACK­SON

MANCH­ESTER City did not have things com­pletely their own way against Ever­ton so in emerg­ing with the win the cham­pi­ons il­lus­trated why they re­mained ti­tle favourites de­spite los­ing top spot last Satur­day. They also leapfrogged Liver­pool to be­come lead­ers again un­til, at the very least, Manch­ester United visit An­field to­day.

Ever­ton ar­rived as the only side not to lose here in the two league out­ings since Pep Guardi­ola took over and left with the record shred­ded. City did this by re­tain­ing the re­lent­less­ness that steam­rollers most op­po­nents and that fi­nally wore their vis­i­tors’ re­sis­tance down.

Guardi­ola made four changes. Out went Ra­heem Ster­ling, John Stones, Olek­sandr Zinchenko, and Phil Fo­den. In came Fabian Delph, Riyad Mahrez, Fer­nand­inho and Kyle Walker. The man­ager re­sisted start­ing Kevin De Bruyne and Ser­gio Agüero, fol­low­ing re­spec­tive in­juries, each be­ing named on the bench.

For Ever­ton, Idrissa Gu­eye and Theo Wal­cott made way for Kurt Zouma and Do­minic Calvert-Lewin.

The tem­per­a­ture was close to zero yet the foot­ball con­tained some heat. Ever­ton gave an early warn­ing when Calvert-Lewin got be­hind the de­fence and shot, though he was ruled off­side. City’s ri­poste was a slide-rule Ilkay Gün­do­gan ball that set Leroy Sané rac­ing in be­hind. Yet with Gabriel Je­sus avail­able in the area the Ger­man re­fused the pass, turned in­side and lost con­trol.

Af­ter a sweet Je­sus turn that had Zouma scram­bling and just about re­cov­er­ing Sané was again in. This time Fer­nand­inho had the vi­sion but the No 19’s touch was faulty once more.

Walker was the next City man to com­mit an er­ror and it was nearly costly. The right-back daw­dled and Lu­cas Digne turned pick­pocket. The left-wing-back lobbed in the ball but Richarli­son lost com­po­sure. Fur­ther Ever­ton thrust came from a Bernard break­away along the left flank: the at­tack came to noth­ing but did pro­voke a con­cerned Guardi­ola to leave his seat for the tech­ni­cal area.

What he saw now was City ratchet up the pres­sure, which led even­tu­ally to Je­sus’s opener. First Fer­nand­inho’s chipped ball had Mahrez driv­ing past Digne, caus­ing him to foul the Al­ge­rian, for which he got booked. The sub­se­quent free-kick went to Delph and his 20-yard shot was al­ways ris­ing.

Next came two corners in quick suc­ces­sion and then Je­sus’s sixth club goal this sea­son. You can­not of­fer the cham­pi­ons presents, whether or not it is yule­tide, as they are a ruth­less unit. Yet Ever­ton did ex­actly this when Yerry Mina hoofed the ball from near his goalline straight to Gün­do­gan. The Ger­man’s pass went in­stantly to Sané, his to Je­sus, and the Brazil­ian beat Jor­dan Pick­ford from a tight an­gle to break a four-month drought in the league.

At this junc­ture Ever­ton re­fused to go un­der de­spite the light-blue wave that came re­lent­lessly on. A rare foray by the vis­i­tors was halted by some classic Fer­nand­inho mid­field-gen­eral play that turned the ball over and de­fence into at­tack.

This was what Marco Silva’s men were up against: when City needed to fight and be­come more rudi­men­tary they could and would. And with­out the Pick­ford ac­ro­bat­ics that saved a Mahrez rocket of a vol­ley from close in Ever­ton would have en­tered the break 2-0 be­hind.

In­stead they be­gan the sec­ond half still in the con­test. Yet, al­most in­evitably, City were the ag­gres­sors as Je­sus and Sané got in along the left, the ball was turned back to Fer­nand­inho though his pot-shot was off-tar­get.

Now, they dou­bled the lead. This was beau­ti­ful in its sim­plic­ity as Sané dinked a cross over from the left and Je­sus’s header al­lowed Pick­ford scant chance.

This turned Ever­ton’s chal­lenge from mole­hill to moun­tain and so Silva brought on Wal­cott and Ade­mola Look­man for Bernard and Cole­man. As City’s sec­ond was again aided by a de­fen­sive prob­lem — no one got in Je­sus’s face — whether field­ing two fresh at­tack­ers could sal­vage the game re­mained to be seen.

More de­fen­sive lax­ity seemed to give the an­swer as Gün­do­gan played a one-two with Mahrez and had yards to take aim at Pick­ford’s goal. He missed and when com­edy City de­fend­ing from Ni­colás Ota­mendi gave the ball to Digne Ever­ton pounced. In came the cross and Calvert-Lewin headed past Eder­son.

If this sug­gested the match was back on, the sense lasted only mo­ments. Ster­ling had re­placed Sané and af­ter in­ter­play be­tween Je­sus and Fer­nand­inho the lat­ter crossed and the num­ber seven headed home his ninth league goal of the sea­son.

De Bruyne then came on for Mahrez to make a first ap­pear­ance since Novem­ber 1 and there was also time for a con­tretemps be­tween Eder­son and Mina.

Manch­ester City goal­keeper Eder­son re­mon­strates with Ever­ton’s Yerry Mina dur­ing yes­ter­day’s game at the Eti­had Sta­dium. Photo: Paul El­lis

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