Carlo Ancelotti will be looking to continue is fine form as the newly appointed Everton manager looks to make it a third win on the bounce in charge of the Toffees, and given Manchester City’s inconsistent form of late, the Italian manager will be confident of causing Pep Guardiola’s side problems
Man City bounced back from a shock defeat to Wolves with a win over Sheffield United, but the 2-0 score line didn’t represent the whole game, as VAR intervened to deny Sheffield United at opener, whilst the xG painted a different picture. City’s 1.09 to the Blades’ 1.23 highlighted just how they rode their luck, and how the makeshift defence of City can still be targeted, and will give Ancelotti plenty to ponder come New Years Day.
Since becoming manager of Everton, Ancelotti has opted for both a 5-3-2 in victory over Burnley, before showing great tactical flexibility in the win away at Newcastle, switching between both a 4-4-2 and 3-5-2. Ahead of the visit to the Etihad, and given the joy that both Sheffield United and Wolves had with three at the back against City, Ancelotti may opt for the three once again, as he looks to target the weaknesses in Manchester City’s backline.
Regardless of who City select at centre back, they have utilised a very high line when the game is poised at 0-0, or when chasing a game, and this gives the opposition plenty of space to try and hit early on. Sheffield United’s disallowed goal highlighted this, as Eric Garcia and Fernandinho were left overloaded by the onrushing strikers and midfielders, and subsequently outpaced in behind.
Coupled with the high line, City rely upon their full backs to press high and offer a wide outlet in attack, and as a result this leaves further spaces for the opposition to target over the top. As a result, particularly early on, the counter will be key to Everton’s hopes, and if they do opt to go for a 5-3-2/5-4-1, the hold up play of Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be key. His physical presence is well equipped to cause the City backline plenty of problems, who have struggled against the likes of Raul Jimenez this season, and if he is able to carry his strong form into the game and utilise his build up play, it brings into play on the onrushing wingers and winger backs from deep, particularly in the wide areas.
Although this does highlight a particular area of attack for Everton, Guardiola did adapt to this well in the second half against Sheffield United, with Rodri dropping deeper into a back three, allowing the centre backs more cover, and then subsequently allowing wing backs Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko to push higher in the shape. This subsequently freed up Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez to drift centrally and start to cause Sheffield United’s defenders more problems with their fluid and versatile movement, and if Everton are to opt for a back five on Wednesday, Guardiola may look to respond in a similar vain.
Although it does help reduce the threat of the counter attack, if Everton are able to commit men forward, much like Sheffield United did, the lack of defensive work rate from City’s midfielders, particularly the wide players, means that they can still provide overloads. The Blades targeted City with crosses, and given Everton’s aerial threat, both from open play and dead ball situations, Ancelotti will look to create these overloads, similar to the success Everton had in a similar game against Leicester City earlier this season. Richarlison would look to make late runs into the box, joining Calvert-Lewin, whilst Djibril Sidibe and his excellent crossing ability from the right side is more than capable of picking out these attackers.
Richarlison could see himself moved out wide in a shape that represents a 5-4-1, as City could easily overrun the Everton midfield, which is still learning the shape, if they are left with two up top. Although Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has started well under Ancelotti in his first two games, the Toffees could opt for the more defensive solid options of Tom Davies and Fabian Delph, with Davies more than capable of joining the attacks and making late runs into the box, highlighted by his missed opportunities against Chelsea in their 3-1 win earlier in December.
As ever, the key to stopping City will be keeping the midfield trio quiet in behind the forward line, and with Kevin De Bruyne expected to pull the strings once again, Davies and Delph will have to work hard to do so. However, if Everton are to sit deep, and if City are to continue with Rodri sitting deeper, it does give the Belgian a free role, as seen in the second half against Sheffield United, and makes him even harder to pick up and keep quiet. His goal encapsulated the form he’s in, and highlighted the City threat on the counter, and if Everton are to push on and commit men forward, it does leave them particularly vulnerable at the back to the Belgian midfielder’s counter attacking ability, arguably the best in the Premier League.
The hectic nature of the Premier League Calendar means that squad rotation and team shapes are even harder to predict at this time of year, and it must obviously be factored in when considering some of the assumptions made.
The betting at this time of year does become a tough prospect, and City’s inconsistencies don’t help as you are left second guessing which City side will turn up.
However, if the shape of the game is to follow that of City’s last match against Sheffield United, whilst taking into account the potentially tired nature of both sides ahead of this tie, two markets do appeal.
Tactical fouling in City’s matches is a common theme, and although Andre Marriner is one of the more lenient referees taking the whistle, the Christmas period, coupled with the tactical nature of both sides, could see the card count build up for both sides. Fabian Delph and Tom Davies would stand out in the Toffee’s midfield as card options, but the uncertainty around who will be picked means it’s hard to commit at this point, but at 1.90 (Bet365), Everton to have two cards does stand out.
The goal markets do appeal on this game, especially considering both sides attacking threats discussed above, and as a result, both teams to score does take appeal. However, I do still think that City will have enough to win the game, even with their indifferent form, but with potential problems and struggles against the likes of Calvert-Lewin up top, City and both teams to score stands out at 2.50 (BoyleSports).