Manchester City stay perfect with decisive win over Everton
Manchester City downed Everton 2-0 thanks to a howler from American keeper Tim Howard and a lovely late goal from Samir Nasri. Aleksandr Kolarov broke the deadlock in the 60th minute, blowing a shot from an acute angle past American Howard at his near post.
The result continues City’s revival after a disappointing 2014-15 season, and they now top the table ahead of Monday’s Arsenal-Liverpool match. A gritty match, with spells of promise bookended by work that was professional if unspectacular, this was the kind of game a title contender has to win — and win City did.
Kolarov’s goal was set up by an excellent through ball from the young and much-criticized Raheem Sterling, but the blame will ball squarely on Howard. The American, who was the league’s worst keeper last season, statistically, has combined good reaction saves with blunders, and Sunday was no different. Howard started the game well, but after making a series of fine saves, he allowed himself to be beat at his own near post. Kolarov simply held the ball up on the endline, and waited for Howard to commit — and when he did, threaded the needle.
The second goal was also troubling. Howard was less at fault on Nasri’s goal, an insouciant chip over the rooted keeper into the back of the net, but Howard did again look like a deer in the headlights, and was left to rage at a defense that had actually been quite stout.
City started the game brightly, with Sergio Aguero forcing a smart save out of Howard in just the second minute, with the Argentine slipped though Everton’s backline by David Silva. Howard would be forced to stifle a shot from Aguero again seven minutes later, but the biggest chance of the half almost fell for new signing Sterling on the quarter hour.
Arouna Kone dithered on the ball close to his own goal, allowing Jesus Navas to sweep in and play the ball forward to Silva. Silva raced past the back four and fired a vicious cross past Howard to Sterling, but the former Liverpool starlet could not get a boot onto the ball to redirect it into the net.
Everton began to grow into the game, however, with Ross Barkley starting to make an impact in the heart of the field. He was at the heart of a controversial call in the 23rd minute that saw Romelu Lukaku through on goal to score. Collecting the ball down the gut, Lukaku beat Joe Hart and then fired through a scrambling Fernandinho on the line. But the linesman had his flag up, waving the goal off. Replays showed it was a very tight decision but the correct one, despite Everton’s pleas. Everton also enjoyed a very late flurry, with Lukaku driving a free-kick in first half stoppage time over City’s wall, only to see it skim off the top of Hart’s crossbar.
But large parts of the game were played in midfield, with both sides trying to play the ball over the top — and both formations cancelling essentially cancelling the other out. The second half saw City grab the reins.
Silva ripped a reverse from Sterling through Gareth Barry to begin the half, only to see the ball come back off the upright. As the match slowed to a walking pace, City continued to shift the point of attack, using Navas and Silva on opposite sides in an attempt to catch Phil Jagielka and John Stones out.
Everton were finally beat on the hour, and it seemed after Kolarov’s goal as if the floodgates might open. Navas found himself with a free run at Howard, but he tarried too long and in the end was forced to try and power a shot in, that instead came back painfully off the American’s face.
Roberto Martinez tossed on Steven Naismith to press Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, but with City absorbing and moving to kill off the game, there seemed to be little that Everton could do.
Jagielka and Barry nearly combined with ten minutes to play as a corner fizzed in and saw Hart beat. Off the ensuing throw, Barry nearly headed the ball in only to see Kompany punt it away off the line. But that was all she wrote, and when Nasri floated in his goal, you felt that City had done the job well, and fully deserved their win.
Watford 0, Southampton 0
In the only other late game of the day in England, Watford and Southampton huffed and puffed their way through a dismal scoreless draw. The game at Vicarage Road was unremarkable, but there will be concern over the fitness of Sadio Mane, removed early in the first half.
Mane is a reported transfer target for Manchester United. The result left the Saints in the drop zone after three matches; Watford are in the middle of the pack in the Premier League table.