Man City control league title race after comeback victory over Everton
Everton did their friends across Stanley Park no favors on Saturday night, as Edin Dzeko scored twice to keep Manchester City's charge for the title alive with a 3-2 win. The result put City atop the table for at least a night on goal difference; Chelsea can take over the lead on Sunday with a win over Norwich City while Liverpool can do the same on Monday with a win at Crystal Palace in London.
But make no mistake: the initiative is firmly in City's hands now. This was their toughest remaining game on the schedule, and if they win out against Aston Villa and West Ham, they cannot be caught.
The result also had a cascading effect. Everton automatically qualified for the Europa League and guaranteed Arsenal will finish in the top four and gain a place in the UEFA Champions League next season. That means that Hull are unlikely Europa League entrants as well, as they are in the finals of the FA Cup against Arsenal, and so take the automatic slot win or lose.
To say the atmosphere at Goodison Park -- normally a rollicking wee ground -- was sedate at the outset would be an gross understatement. So quiet were the home fans, many of whom had made no secret of their ambivalence about this fixture, that you could easily hear the City players talking to one another from the seats.
Why? Everton's faithful, of course, were worried that a win here would derail City's title charge -- and thus hand the impetus to their crosstown rivals, Liverpool. While this rivalry is known as one of the kinder ones in world football, much of the chatter pre-game was about how damaging an Everton win might actually be. So, if the Everton fans cared, they didnât show it: the Gwadlys Street stand was barely abuzz.
Yet as the game found its footing, the crowd found their voices. And when Ross Barkley opened the scoring in sensational fashion in the 10th minute, the stands roared. Steven Naismith settled and squared the ball to Barkely 25 yards out, allowing him to take a step and unleash a curling effort that just dipped under Joe Hart's crossbar and into the far top corner. It was a stunning effort out of nothing, and Hart hadn't a chance at saving it.
The lead would not last long: 13 minutes later, Sergio Aguero got around the back of the Everton defense off a keen feed from Yaya Toure, and with a cool strike, blew the ball past Tim Howard at his near post. It was a poor goal for the keeper to concede as it was a shot straight between him and his post -- but he wasn't helped by his defender, Antolin Alcaraz, who was badly beaten down the right channel.
Perhaps fortunately for Everton, that would be the last effort of the day for Aguero. Immediately after scoring, he limped to the sideline and signaled that he had hurt both his groin and his hamstring. The striker's season has been marred by injuries, but this was a particularly inopportune time for him to have to depart the stage.
Fortunately for City, Dzeko was able to fill the void Aguero left, nicking a goal right before the end of the half to put City on top. Forcing a save from Howard down low with a stern shot, Dzeko then drifted to the top of the arc. James Milner kept the play alive and then popped the ball over. Dzekoâs header wasn't powerful, but it was precise, and the American was well-beat.
Dzeko would add his second right after the break when Toure flipped the ball over the entire back line and out wide to Samir Nasri, who served it up well to Dzeko for the tap-in. It was Dzeko's 14th of the season, tying his best-ever mark with the club, and it repaid the faith manager Manuel Pellegrini has shown in the Bosnian striker all season long. After a lost period under Roberto Mancini's reign, Dzeko is now performing at a high level once again.
But Everton would not give up, with Romelu Lukaku finding the back of the net in the 65th minute when he got around Martin Demichelis. Leighton Baines sent in a delicious cross from the left side that Lukaku dove to head home. But there was more than a whiff of offside on the goal, and Demichelis would be carded in the aftermath for his strenuous objections to ref Lee Probert.
Everton continued to press as City shrank back, with the loss of Yaya Toure to injury just after the hour mark particularly damaging. Sub Gerard Deulofeu flashed a shot into the side net late, signaling that the Toffees were hardly going to lie down and let City take the game.
City did not come out of the game unscarred: Toure, Aguero and Nasri all had to be removed in game, and Dzkeo appeared to injure his left shoulder. How fit that quartet is against Villa may prove vital to Cityâs title dreams.