Manchester City look to continue their Premier League title charge this Saturday as they travel to Merseyside to take on Everton. The Toffees are making their own push for a Champions League berth, so both sides have a lot to gain and lose from this huge clash.
City enter the game on the back of a solid 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, which saw Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure net first-half goals at Selhurst Park. Everton, meanwhile, have sandwiched losses to Palace and Southampton around a win over Manchester United.
Coupled with Liverpool's slip-up at Anfield against Chelsea, City are now within three points of the league-leading Reds with a game still in hand to be played on May 7 against Aston Villa. Arsenal's win over Newcastle Monday evening has all but assured the Gunners another fourth-place finish, sitting four points above Everton.
Both teams desperately need to win this match to make strides toward achieving their goals, but who will come out on top in the end? Not long ago, this writer projected a win for the home side at Goodison Park, but a lot has changed since then.
As mentioned before, City did what Chelsea could not and what Liverpool must: take three points at Selhurst Park. That came on the back of a win at home against West Brom, a good bounce-back showing after the loss at Anfield and the bogey draw against sudden upstarts Sunderland.
Everton had won seven Premier League matches on the spin until Palace waltzed into Goodison Park and showcased more of their remarkable turnaround, defeating a second top-five opponent in less than a month. The Toffees then handed David Moyes his final defeat as Manchester United manager before slumping to a 2-0 loss to Southampton last weekend.
Overall, Everton have still won eight of 10 in league play and City seven, but their stumbles have come at inopportune times for both. City have gotten lucky with Liverpool sliding back to the pack, while Everton's two losses have been cancelled by two Arsenal wins, likely denying them Champions League football.
A decent share of injuries have taken their tolls on both teams recently, especially City. They were without Yaya Toure for much of the Liverpool loss as well as the Sunderland draw, but his return helped spearhead the result against Palace.
They were still without David Silva, Jesus Navas and Matija Nastasic last weekend, as Manuel Pellegrini pointed out in the pre-match presser. There's no telling if they'll be back for this one, but City have looked OK without them the last two matches.
To make things better for Pellegrini, he's gotten both Toure and Sergio Aguero back in recent weeks, both of whom are primed to make an impact in this crucial matchup. We've already seen both players score in the last two wins, so things are looking up for the Citizens.
Everton's own star-studded injury list includes long-term absentee Phil Jagielka alongside Kevin Mirallas, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines. Baines exited the Southampton loss early, but the club has confirmed that he is likely to shake it off in time.
Jagielka has been out since February, but Roberto Martinez stated last week that this fixture is the expected return date of the Toffees captain. His defensive partner, Distin, meanwhile, missed the Southampton clash with his own injury, leaving still more question marks in the middle of the back four.
The worst off is Mirallas, as the Belgian dynamo was confirmed by Martinez to be done for the season with a groin tear. The tricky attacker had enjoyed a strong season up to this point, and his shoes will be difficult to fill in this crucial run-in.
The Battle on the Pitch
When push comes to shove, what will all we've just discussed mean at Goodison Park? Remember that the first match between these two saw City run out 3-1 victors. That was way back in October, of course, but both teams were in the same table positions after that one as they are now: third and fifth.
Coincidence? Maybe, but at least indicative of how strong both teams have been throughout the course of the season.
In the preview from a couple weeks ago, it was mentioned that Yaya Toure's absence would make it difficult for City to get a result. Luckily for them, the Ivorian is back and was at close to his marauding best at Selhurst Park, which should strike fear into the injury-riddled Toffees defense.
Pellegrini raised a few eyebrows by selecting Javi Garcia over Fernandinho against the Eagles, but it paid dividends as the Spaniard put in a strong shift. The Brazilian might hope to get the start this time around, as he adds a little something extra that Garcia doesn't in terms of attacking play.
Not only will Everton's midfield to combat Toure and Company be without dangerous attacker Mirallas, but it'll also lack defensive lynchpin Gareth Barry, who is of course ineligible due to being on loan from City.
A ragged defensive line plus a midfield missing two key faces isn't exactly a recipe for success against a team as powerful as City. Luckily, Everton do have their own strong attackers.
A reasonably fit Baines and his full-back partner, Seamus Coleman, will surely maraud down the flanks to provide service for themselves and their teammates. Plus, the pressure they'll put on their opposition down the touchlines will help slow City's attack.
The Everton attack will likely be headlined by scoring machine Romelu Lukaku and fellow young phenom Gerard Deulofeu. The latter has impressed hugely on his loan spell from Barcelona—enough so that Spanish publication AS believes he will be in for a second season at Goodison Park.
Exhibiting that La Masia-bred flair, ball control and penchant for a key pass or goal, the 20-year-old Spaniard makes for a great complement to his towering Belgian mate. Expect this dynamic duo to test Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis early and often in this one.
So who wins this one?
City looked like a completely new team after the Liverpool-Chelsea result came in. Their performance against Palace was one of class and confidence, even if it seemed like they were in cruise control for much of it. Expect that to continue with a single-goal win over Everton.
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