How Everton Will Line Up Against Manchester City
The Toffees have only lost one of their previous six trips to the City of Manchester Stadium, winning four, and hold nine wins from their last 12 meetings with Saturday's opponents.
Roberto Martinez will attempt extend this record, and replicate the success his Wigan side found against City in last year's FA Cup Final.
The hosts, however, will be smarting following a humbling defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Manuel Pellegrini will no doubt demand a response from his squad and will hope to improve this dismal record against the Toffees.
Everton have some growing personnel concerns, especially in midfield, as Martinez revealed in his pre-match press conference (h/t Evertonfc.com). Gareth Barry is unfortunately ineligible to play against his parent club, and Darron Gibson remains a slight doubt.
The game may also come too soon for Steven Pienaar—absent since the draw at Cardiff—while Kevin Mirallas is only 50-50 after twisting his ankle in the win against Newcastle.
Martinez says Mirallas is 50/50 for weekend, Pienaar unlikely to make it and slight doubt over ongoing knee concern for Darron Gibson #EFC— Greg O'Keeffe (@GregOK) October 3, 2013
Elsewhere, Arouna Kone was fit enough for a return to the bench against the Magpies, but Antolin Alcaraz remains sidelined for another month.
Therefore, considering the latest injury updates, here's a lineup Martinez could field against Manchester City:
This is an optimistic XI, presuming those with knocks pull through. If they don't, then there could be all manner of changes, as we'll come to later in this piece.
Everton's back five will all remain on the team sheet, as they have for every Premier League game this season—although they will need to show more cohesion than they did in the second half against Newcastle.
Which player not in this XI should start?
In front of them come the major dilemmas, once again. If James McCarthy and Osman are the only fit central midfielders, then that pairing looks especially light off the ball against City.
Both are important in possession, but were two of the most dribbled-past players last season—Osman second in the Premier League, beaten 58 times, and McCarthy seventh, dribbled-past 42 times.
They were often exposed by attacking midfielders, so playing them together in central midfield seems a bit of a risk, especially given the calibre of opponent. They need a stronger partner alongside them, and for this reason Everton will hope Gibson can return. If he does, then Osman will stay on the left flank, but in a narrower berth, with the aim of condensing midfield.
Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku will continue in the No. 10 and No. 9 roles, respectively, and Martinez will also be particularly keen to field Mirallas. The Belgian's pace will provide an important outlet on the break which can serve as an effective release, as was the case in the second half against Chelsea. If he is to miss out, Gerard Deulofeu would replicate his input better than Steven Naismith.
This lineup keeps Everton in the same 4-2-3-1 system they have played all season, but Martinez will give serious consideration to deploying a back three.
It gave his Wigan side success over City in the FA Cup Final and helped Aston Villa beat Pellegrini's side last week. Given Everton's possible absentees in midfield, an extra body at the back—which would be John Stones or John Heitinga—would then shore up the Toffees' core.
This also worked well in preseason against Juventus, with Mirallas especially prominent. Having become so familiar with the often effective, but generally repetitive approach of David Moyes, this may be an early example of Martinez's more flexible, inventive system.
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