The first meeting between Everton and Manchester City this season marked certain boundaries of each team’s capacity to achieve their highest objectives. City followed up Everton’s challenge at the Etihad with a period of relative turmoil while the Toffees suffered from their own inconsistencies and shortcomings.
For their part, City has made significant improvements, though, and seem to be building off of recent successes. Here are three things to watch that could help City leave Goodison Park with three points:
1 - Continued Improvement
The Blues looked good against West Ham United in the FA Cup, but Everton will pose a serious challenge. The Toffees can be expected to challenge City directly, which has often left City with diminished confidence.
However, the speed of City's transitions has been a positive development over recent fixtures. City has only allowed three goals since Leicester City gave them a 4-2 thrashing, which has allowed the Blues to rebuild confidence in possession.
Maintaining this type of focus will be necessary as Everton will be hungry to remain relatively close to the top six teams.
2 - Individual Performances
Although Gabriel Jesus will not be available, most of City’s stars have showed vitality in recent games. Sergio Agüero has started to play off of Yaya Touré, Raheem Sterling and others in a more deft manner — both in transition and with the final touch.
Touré announced through the official City website that the Blues absolutely have to win on Sunday. Focusing both on the direct challenges of Everton — “90 minutes of fight,” according to the Ivorian — and the effort to close the gap to Chelsea, Yaya could help decide the outcome yet again.
John Stones has also gone public to explain his dip in form and the team’s struggles in complex formations. Mistakes by City’s defenders earlier in the season impacted the squad’s overall performance but momentum is being regained.
He made sure to validate Pep Guardiola and his training methods but said that the blockbuster move that brought him to the Etihad has added pressure to his time on the field.
Stones’ perspective reflects his maturity. If Nicolas Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov and others hold the same perspective, City has the ability to hold off Everton for another clean sheet.
3 - Preparing for the Long Haul
City operated on most cylinders during the dismantling of West Ham. They need to get every element of the starting eleven to click.
While still searching for ultimate offensive prowess, they have to avoid getting opened up at the back. The squad appears to be gaining comfort and consistency after mistakes in the back and a lack of execution in the attacking half rattled them for parts of the fall and early winter.
Tottenham Hotspur looms on the horizon and, in general, the team needs to hit their stride before Champions League matches begin again. Clinching a spot for next season’s European tournament is just as important.
Stones and Touré convey this perspective in their recent interviews but City’s success depends on an intelligent and powerful presence on the pitch. Containing Everton and continuing the reinvigoration of the City goal scoring mechanism will go a long way.