Jesus double strike sees City back on the summit
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