Leighton Baines returns after missing three games in all competitions with a hamstring strain
Fourteen points from seven games and fifth place heading into another tedious international break represented a solid start to life under Ronald Koeman but the jeering question levelled at Evertonians from fans across Stanley Park has been, “who have you played, though?” — a reference to the Toffees' comparatively comfortable run of fixtures to begin the campaign.
Having faced only Tottenham among the favourites to be challenging for the title this season so far, it's not been clear how the new-look Everton will fare against the “big teams” but with this weekend's trip to the Etihad Stadium, we're about to find out.
There are easier games the Blues could have had than facing Manchester City as the Premier League programme resumes but it represents an opportunity to make a statement, particularly in the wake of two highly disappointing results against Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.
Those two games yielded just one point and, together with the irksome exit from the EFL Cup to lower-division opposition, served to significantly deflate the balloon of optimism with which Blues fans had greeted Koeman's arrival and early record. They have also increased the importance of this weekend's game; defeat would be another set-back in terms of progress and confidence as the team jostles among the pace-setters in the top six but a draw or even an unexpected win would provide a shot in the arm ahead of the games against Burnley and West Ham that will close out October.
Both Spurs and Celtic have provided the blueprint for unsettling City in recent games from which Koeman can plot the downfall of his old friend, Pep Guardiola. Intensity, pressing and vigorously going after the league leaders early all revealed weaknesses in an otherwise formidable-looking side, traits that Everton now possess in abundance thanks to the summer transfer business and the gruelling fitness regimen instituted by Jan Kluitenburg.
Furthermore, though it's not something Everton have shown much of in central areas on the edge of the box lately, movement by the strikers between the central defensive pairing of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi was also a key to both of those teams' success against Guardiola's men. Certainly, the Blues could benefit from the extra space on the pitch that is likely to open up as City attack something that was in very short supply against Bournemouth and Palace.
Koeman will also be boosted by the return to fitness of Leighton Baines following a hamstring strain and the continued availability of Phil Jagielka and Romelu Lukaku, both of whom look to have recovered from minor thigh problems. While the fullbacks aren't the attacking weapons that they were under Roberto Martinez, Baines remains a hugely important player and his presence can only improve on the starting XI that failed to beat the Cherries or Palace.
Lukaku, meanwhile, will have something to prove on the stage where he failed to have much of an impact in either of Everton's visits to the Etihad last season. Together with his “opposite number” Sergio Agüero, he comes into the game as the second-top goalscorer in the league with five goals but he hasn't scored in this particular fixture for a little over three years and the Toffees haven't beaten City on their own patch since December 2010.
They didn't come close in the league encounter last season either as Martinez's team put in a defensive stand of rare resilience to hold onto a 0-0 draw back in January, albeit against Manuel Pellegrini's considerably less daunting outfit and with the benefit of a fortunate decision by the referee in waving away penalty claims against new City man, Stones.
Everton's back line is considerably stronger this time around — indeed, one that has a better defensive record than their hosts this weekend — but they will have to be as focused and determined as ever against an attack that has been scoring at a rate of 2.5 goals a game this season. And things will have to come together more effectively at the other end where the Blues have scored just once in three games if they are to become the first team to beat City at the Etihad since Manchester United in March.
Having demonstrated a tendency to go with a three-man defence against the Premier League's top teams during his Southampton days, all Evertonian eyes will be on Koeman's team selection and formation. Should he opt for a central-defensive trio, it's likely that Ramiro Funes Mori would get the nod over Mason Holgate and Tom Cleverley would be the player sacrificed in midfield but Baines and Seamus Coleman are likely starters regardless, either as wingbacks or conventional fullbacks.
Further forward, Yannick Bolasie's pace, power and ability to unsettle defences will almost certainly see him keep his place with Ross Barkley likely to be retained in the hole behind the striker. Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas may have to be content with starting on the bench and possibly deployed as impact subs in the second half.
Even with Kevin de Bruyne doubtful — it's possible he could start on the bench — Guardiola has plenty of options and depth at his disposal and with the passing intricacy and movement possessed by the likes of David Silva and Nolito, this promises to be a stern test for Everton. No team is infallible, though, and, as Leicester showed last season, they can be vulnerable from set-pieces.
If Koeman can motivate his side into putting on a high-octane, fearless display from the first whistle, there is no reason why they can't pull off a surprise and come away from Manchester with all three points but it will surely require more potency and composure than was in evidence last time out against Palace and on the south coast at Bournemouth last month.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 15 October 2016
Referee: Michael Oliver
Last Time: Manchester City 0 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Stekelenburg, Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Funes Mori, Baines, Gueye, Barry, Barkley, Bolasie, Lukaku
Full details: ToffeeWeb match page
Reader Comments (62)
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1 Posted 14/10/2016 at 08:54:37
The attitude of "it's early days yet" is dated. The physical and mental demands of the Premier League require that you have to hit the floor running from the word go.
A key player will be Ross Barkley. He is due a game-changing performance and the news that Southgate is going to have a look at him some time should help overcome any nagging self-doubt.
2 Posted 14/10/2016 at 09:26:30
3 Posted 14/10/2016 at 09:49:58
The other way to look at it, Funes Mori starts with the sole objective of babysitting Aguero. They both play together for the same national team so I am hoping that Funes Mori will be aware of a few tricks to keep Aguero quiet. COYB!
4 Posted 14/10/2016 at 10:08:15
5 Posted 14/10/2016 at 10:29:37
6 Posted 14/10/2016 at 10:38:05
A good test of Koeman's mettle and the next few weeks will hopefully see our good start consolidated, though a few more bad results and we will quickly be ensconced in the familiar mid table.
We definitely look more solid defensively and coped admirably with the barrage of Palace crosses and corners but it's been a while (Middlesborough?) since we looked in control of a game. That needs to change if we have European ambitions. Consistency is the key.
7 Posted 14/10/2016 at 11:45:52
8 Posted 14/10/2016 at 12:00:11
Back to important matters, press em consistently, there's mistakes in that defence and goalie... Problem being, can our lads do it? Or will they retreat into their fickle mentality "How dare he criticise us" mode (my opinion only, of course).
If we show them too much respect, we're in for a tonking. In their faces from the off: foul, bite, scratch, grab plums, whatever it takes. I don't need another shite, kick the dog, back hand the Mrs sort of evening if we lose.
9 Posted 14/10/2016 at 12:32:31
Jagielka, Williams, Funes Mori
Coleman, Barkley, Gana, Barry, Baines
Press, Press, Press and more Press
If Barkley is looking lost at any point, hook him off for Davies.
10 Posted 14/10/2016 at 12:45:20
11 Posted 14/10/2016 at 13:30:41
However, a big game and we know we can get up for these. The bit of complacency which helped to undermine us against Norwich, Palace and Bournemouth will obviously not be there and RonKom should have a Plan A (and B) up his sleeve against his old friend and foe, Pep.
The lads themselves will get themselves fired up and me waters are telling me there is at least a point in this for us. Probably a low scorer though.
Up and at 'em, you Blues!
12 Posted 14/10/2016 at 13:41:14
14 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:12:49
15 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:17:08
What I would like to see tomorrow is someone (Gana, Davies, Deulofeu even) pressurising him every single time he has the ball. He is bound to want to show Evertonians what a great player he really thinks he is and will take risks with some of his turns. We could potentially unsettle their whole defence with that tactic and who knows what the outcome might be.
16 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:20:11
What are you on about, mate?
17 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:20:28
18 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:24:01
I would rather see Holgate than Funes Mori because he has more awareness and can help Seamus up and down that right-hand side.
However, it doesn't really matter who plays they have to be up for it for 90 minutes and keen to get on the ball.
Old heads are important in these games and I hope Williams, Jagielka, Baines and Barry can exercise their influence on the pitch.
19 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:29:05
What I mean by that comment is that, although I am an Everton supporter, they (being Everton) just don't seem good enough for the Premier League. Look at the players Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City have got then compare them to ours.
20 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:35:04
I don't think any right-minded Evertonian believes that we can regularly compete at the level we wish to just now, however, we can only hope that the new regime will make a better fist of it than the previous one.
Tomorrow is another of those games which we will, in all probability, fail to win... but you never know until the game has been played.
22 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:40:39
I think it's about the psychology of the modern game became equally as important as it is, the physical/ fitness side. Look at Liverpool under their new, seemingly very good manager.
Koeman can provide to Everton a kick up the backside (when required), but equally, he is likely to build up each individual player's confidence, too.
23 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:47:30
Sunderland, yes Sunderland, did they pressed and worked hard and Man City seemed to run out of ideas... that was in the earlier part of this season, they eventually lost with an own-goal in the last minute of the game.
If Sunderland can give them a good game, so can we, can't we? We can if we have a go and EVERYONE rolling their sleeves up and doing the best they can.
25 Posted 14/10/2016 at 16:53:16
Hmmm, 'look at the players' eh.
Okay, tell you what... give H G Wells a bell, ask him take you back to the start of last season and using the same 'logic', give us your thoughts on Leicester. (Chortle you're going to look a right twat come May 2016.)
26 Posted 14/10/2016 at 17:00:45
27 Posted 14/10/2016 at 17:18:32
Surely the lads will be keen as mustard to prove themselves. Man City will surely bring the game to us, which normally suits our style, and if we can do a high press on their defence, then perhaps we can catch out Stones and the new keeper, who likes to play sweeper.
Aguero will be our biggest worry, as the pint-sized genius seems to enjoy unpicking our defence, even out-jumping us last season. I am longing to see Lukaku streaking away with Stones in his wake, and thumping the ball into the Man City net.
Spurs have proved that the Mancs are not unbeatable and like us, City had not played many top sides until last time out. Of course the media were happy to overlook this fact in their case and continued to fawn over Pep.
A draw would be a boost to our credibility, but a win would send shockwaves through the football world. I recall Koeman's Saints beating them 4-2 not so long ago, could we see a repeat on Saturday?
28 Posted 14/10/2016 at 17:21:08
But I do sort of get what you mean. I always feel that we are operating with half a team. When the other half turns up, we might actually have a very good team. (You have to blame our past managers and Kenwright for the shortfalls of the playing personnel.) What is that old saying? We nearly always "flatter to deceive". And yes it will always be difficult to keep up with the big spenders of the Premier League but a few teams have managed to break that mould, especially in the cups. But not Everton. We always fall short. FFS, even Wigan won a cup.
Are Everton a cup-half-full team, or a cup-half-empty? I'm proud of our history. You don't play at the top tier for over 50 years being mugs. And yes we held on by the skin of our teeth a few times but we are still here. And I cannot see our Premier League status being threatened any time soon. (Although thank fuck Martinez and his crew have departed.)But are we a hyped up? Not in my opinion. Are we a poor team? We could be better but if I wanted perfection, I'd have supported the great Barcelona team of a few years back.Do we have potential? Well again, IMO it's time that a few players started fulfilling that potential. Do we deserve to be in the Premier League? You bet we do. Can we beat City tomorrow? Hmmmm...
29 Posted 14/10/2016 at 18:18:29
30 Posted 14/10/2016 at 18:39:25
31 Posted 14/10/2016 at 18:50:21
32 Posted 14/10/2016 at 20:24:56
4-5-1, pack the midfield, close them down, and don't stand off admiring them. 90 minutes effort and, with some luck, we should get a point.
33 Posted 14/10/2016 at 20:39:40
Unless, of course you are doing that predict every possible negative thing and then the positive outcome will be more likely to happen. Anyway, we have some good players, a good coach and the ability to win. Show no fear.
Also, to dismiss Leicester as something that can never happen again is based on what? I believe that the combination of motivated players who actually get on, who are a team, who get the thrill of walking out to Z-Cars can achieve anything. Strange stuff can happen when things fall into place.
34 Posted 14/10/2016 at 20:45:45
35 Posted 14/10/2016 at 20:57:53
36 Posted 14/10/2016 at 22:33:36
I'd take a draw now. A goalfest coming up? Work rate will be crucial tomorrow. Let them play and good night! A good test to see how far we have come.
37 Posted 14/10/2016 at 22:46:31
Their new keeper is no improvement on Hart and Sterling is very over-rated. They depend so much on the individual brilliance of Aguero and Silva; if Everton can keep them subdued, then they have a chance.
Fingers crossed Everton are all focused and have the right positive attitude from the off.
38 Posted 14/10/2016 at 22:56:46
39 Posted 14/10/2016 at 23:36:53
40 Posted 15/10/2016 at 00:30:51
If Lukaku is fed, he'll score... so we just have to hope we can use the space they'll provide to consistently threaten their goal. I reckon they'll play a high line and so the pace of Lukaku and Bolasie could cause problems.
42 Posted 15/10/2016 at 00:50:08
Congrats, the laziest response I've ever had on TW.
43 Posted 15/10/2016 at 00:57:31
45 Posted 15/10/2016 at 09:17:29
They will be well up for making amends for their last two games in front of their own fans. Sterling needs to be marked tightly but they have so many others too. 0-0 would please me. 0-1 even more...
46 Posted 15/10/2016 at 09:50:49
47 Posted 15/10/2016 at 10:25:41
For me, the back four picks itself:
Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Baines.
Likewise in midfield, two certain starters are:
On paper, these three behind or either side of Lukaku look good:
Bolasie, Barkley, Mirallas
The challenge facing Koeman as I see it is can he get the three attacking midfielders to press well enough when City have the ball.
On top of that, one of them should really be able to win the ball back. That is really what we need Ross Barkley to be doing and I suspect why Koeman wanted Sissoku.
Replace one of them three with Ozakawi or Kagawa and the whole balance of the team improves. That has me thinking that he may even start Cleverley or Oviedo instead of Mirallas.
I think we will score they look decidedly dodgy at the back to me.
Up the Blues!!
48 Posted 15/10/2016 at 11:00:56
49 Posted 14/10/2016 at 11:28:45
Certainly not by the British media, John.
50 Posted 15/10/2016 at 11:55:27
51 Posted 15/10/2016 at 12:15:25
I'm bloody speechless.
52 Posted 15/10/2016 at 12:17:53
53 Posted 15/10/2016 at 12:31:52
54 Posted 15/10/2016 at 12:48:25
Evidently Chelsea are in black armbands because Willian's Mum passed on. Leicester for the Thai guy. Not sure why Man Utd were decked out with them recently (or was it England?) but isn't it getting a bit daft. I sort of get the Leicester thing but Willain's Mum?
My dog snuffed it recently maybe I should have got black bands for all my work colleagues.
55 Posted 15/10/2016 at 13:00:01
So you want a team full of humble mediocre players who will stay loyal because no other team wants them?
57 Posted 15/10/2016 at 13:05:05
I reckon Koeman will earn his crust today; no doubt Ross was first name on the team list I've got my eye on him!
58 Posted 15/10/2016 at 13:19:26
Where's Pafos? Do I need a flight?
Hope they get some sort of result today mate, but I can't see it, if the last two performances are anything to go by!
Still, it is Everton, and as we know anything can happen!
59 Posted 15/10/2016 at 13:19:37
I hear where you're coming from. I guess it's a case of where you draw the line. The black armband is now so prevalent it's almost ceased to be a talking point. Kind of defeats the object. The same has happened with the round of applause in a specified minute. It's all very trite and uninteresting to me.
And I'm sorry to hear about your dog. I'll get the missus to wear a black strap-on tonight.
60 Posted 15/10/2016 at 13:33:59
61 Posted 15/10/2016 at 13:44:15
62 Posted 15/10/2016 at 14:02:25
25 Funes Mori
63 Posted 15/10/2016 at 14:11:44
Hope I'm right 'cos it doesn't look a bad tactic.
I'm sure he'll use Barks and Kev when legs become tired
64 Posted 15/10/2016 at 14:19:24
65 Posted 15/10/2016 at 14:22:02
67 Posted 15/10/2016 at 14:31:09
Fingers crossed for this one.
68 Posted 15/10/2016 at 14:49:04
I wish they would just play the fucking game and forget all the nonsensical theatrics that go on before, during and after the match. God, I hate social media and the modern player. This is all Murdoch's fault.
70 Posted 15/10/2016 at 15:59:03
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