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Manchester City reveal vulnerability as they slip against Everton
Manchester City were held to a 1-1 draw by Everton on Saturday night, taking their winless streak to three matches. Have these three weeks been a mere blip for the Sky Blues, or does their form signal a more worrying trend?
Although Manchester City are growing increasingly accustomed to long stretches of domination under Pep Guardiola, a commanding performance against Everton on Saturday night was impressive even by their sky-high standards. City held over seventy percent of possession and pummeled the Toffees’ goal with nineteen shots and thirteen corners, but disappointingly failed to impose their superiority on the scoresheet.
Guardiola’s men fell flat in the final third and fluffed not one but two penalties, allowing Romelu Lukaku’s breakaway goal to clinch a 1-1 draw for Everton. This was the third match in a string of disappointing games for City that have a revealed a shred of vulnerability in their title chase, planting a seed of doubt in their heads leading into an important week of fixtures against Barcelona and Southampton.
City opened their league campaign in red hot form, winning their first ten games of the season in convincing fashion. Yet they fell one game short of a record start to the season in a spectacular 3-3 draw with Celtic the Champions League. A disappointing loss to Tottenham Hotspur the following weekend exacerbated their worries and while City had hoped to recuperate over the international break, Saturday night’s draw with Everton revealed that they haven’t yet fully rediscovered their early swagger.
City have allowed as many goals in these last three games as they did in their first ten undefeated matches of the season, and though they still sit atop the Premier League table, for now, their image of infallibility is fading. Celtic, Tottenham, and Everton each paved unique paths that others could potentially follow as a roadmap against Guardiola’s men in the future.
Celtic took a high-intensity approach to City, feeding off the furor of a fiery midweek night at Celtic Park to nab a thrilling draw from the clutches of their visitors. Their fervent pressing— what Brendan Rodgers described as “educated pressure” — made City uncomfortable on the ball and exposed the Sky Blues at the back on multiple occasions, leaving Guardiola scrambling to cover up. If Celtic’s tactics seemed simple enough in principle, the genius was in their sharpness of execution.
City succumbed to the same furious pressing tactics from Tottenham Hotspur four days later, overwhelmed by the intensity of Spurs’ high press. Mauricio Pochettino’s men forced an error from Aleksandar Kolarov to take the league within ten minutes of kickoff, and where Celtic had relied on grit and the element of luck, a touch of class from Son Heung-Min rounded off the victory for the North Londoners.
Everton, meanwhile, set out with a defensive-oriented gameplan, sitting deep and soaking up an onslaught of attacks from City before snatching a goal on the break.
It’s hardly time for Guardiola to press the panic button at such an early point in the season, but City are wary of the potential pitfalls they face, having fallen from the top of the table at this juncture last season and gone on to finish a disappointing fourth.
City’s fortunes could get worse before they get better, with a Champions League trip to Barcelona ahead on Wednesday. The Sky Blues may find themselves playing on the wrong side of the pitch for the first time this season, which would prove a new test of their character and endurance.
For City, the Premier League title race will be as much about grit as it will be about grace this year and they will need to learn from these early mistakes.