The Citizens ran out comfortable winners 3-1 during the Boxing Day matchweek, overcoming a tough test against Leeds United whilst Everton suffered a disappointing last-gasp defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Goodison Park.
The Gunners’ sensational start to the campaign means that Pep Guardiola’s men sit five points adrift at the top of the Premier League table, despite enjoying a great season so far themselves.
35 points from a possible 45 makes for great reading but the Citizens will be desperate to reclaim their throne soon enough, their defeat to Brentford before the World Cup break has proved very costly on Guardiola’s ambitions and it is Arsenal who will be entering the new year at the top of the tree.
Man City though, have more than enough time to match expectations in the coming weeks, and the fact that they are within touching distance is in no small thanks to the sensational goal scoring machine Erling Haaland who became the fastest player to reach 20 Premier League goals in a single English top-flight campaign, needing just 15 games to match that astonishing feat.
The Norwegian bagged yet another double at the city of his birth, in a comfortable 3-1 win over the Whites at Elland Road, and it was a victory that didn’t even include the likes of Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo and Aymeric Laporte who were all on the bench which means Guardiola has bags of quality at his disposal as they aim to return to the top of the tree.
Manchester City have beaten Everton in all of their 10 meetings, including their controversial triumph at Goodison in February despite avoiding a very clear penalty being given against them following a handball by Rodri. Lampard and his men will looking for an unlikely revenge at the Etihad, but four straight defeats all against sides alongside them at the bottom has left his job security in serious jeopardy.
A rejuvenated Leicester City came to Goodison and beat the Toffees convincingly before Gary O’Neil’s Bournemouth completed a league and cup double over Lampard’s men in the space of a few days before the break, notching seven goals across the two games.
On their return to Premier League action, the Toffees lost a game they felt they dominated against bottom-of-the-table Wolves, thanks to a 95th minute winner from Rayan Ait-Nouri. The Toffees sit just a point above the relegation places but a defeat and results going against them this New Years weekend could see them drop down in the drop zone with the three sides below them all within touching distance of toppling them.
Next week’s fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion is expected to be the make or break for Lampard given the impossible task of overcoming one of the world’s best teams in Manchester City at the Etihad this weekend, but we said the same thing before Brentford travelled their before the break.
However, their performance and spirit will surely be put to the test as Lampard is on the cusp of losing his job if things manage to get worse in the coming weeks. His destiny is in his team’s hands.
WHERE & WHEN?
Venue: Etihad Stadium.
Date: Saturday, 31st December 2022.
Time: 15:00 PM.
Referee: Andy Madley.
Assistant referee: Simon Bennett, Timothy Wood.
Fourth official: Josh Smith.
VAR: Lee Mason.
Assistant VAR: Nick Hopton.
Manchester City still have Julian Alvarez still out recovering from his World Cup celebration antics, and certainly won’t be involved until their next fixture in the New Year.
Ruben Dias remains Guardiola’s only foreseeable absentee, but Man City have plenty of options at centre-back to fill in for the Portuguese international. John Stones and Manuel Akanji successfully linked up at Elland Road and could be the go-to partnership once again against the Toffees.
For Everton, Yerry Mina went off injured yet again in the defeat against Wolves, despite bagging the opening goal. It is a sight that has all become too similar for the Toffees faithful as the Colombian has now gone off early in his last three starts, but Lampard will be delighted at the return of Conor Coady after he was ineligible to face his parent-club Wolves.
Main striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin remains a doubt after the forward could not recover from a continuous thigh issue in time to play any part in the Boxing Day defeat, but could be fit in the coming weeks.
Andros Townsend recently suffered a setback in his return from an ACL tear, and James Garner will now be out for a month with a suspected back injury.
How the Toffees approach this encounter will be intriguing but also a tough ask even before a ball has been kicked. However, Brentford before the World Cup break provided the perfect template on how to compete with Pep Guardiola’s genius, and most of all, how to topple them.
The Bees were sensational in every aspect of their performance against the Citizens in that game.
They were resilient, spirited and aggressive out of possession, restricting the space that the likes of De Bruyne and Haaland thrive in, but showcased their brave approach to the test, confident and purposeful when in possession and more crucially on set-pieces, and that was reflected in both of their goals.
Everton, with all their weaknesses and lack of confidence, certainly don’t look like matching those performance levels but clawing out the most from the players at your disposal is what makes a manager and Lampard will need to prove that in the coming weeks, or he could be following his former England teammates Steven Gerrard out of a job very soon.
As tough as this City test is, it is also a match which should provide the platform for the rest of their campaign if they can put in a performance that the Toffees fans can claim confidence from and have reasons to be optimistic moving forward. The pressure is on for Lampard and his men.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE
Despite Erling Haaland’s tremendous exploits in front of goal, it is Kevin De Bruyne who remains Manchester City and Pep Guardiola’s undisputed key man in the side. The Belgian put in yet another superb showing in the 3-1 win over Leeds United and looks hungry and out for blood after his disappointing World Cup campaign.
The 31-year-old failed to register a goal or an assist on his Premier League return, but still contributed heavily to City’s win, as shown through his sublime line-breaking pass for the third goal, just a small sample of how crucial he is in disrupting the opposition’s defensive shape with cutting-edge accurate passes.
Nine assists from 15 Premier League games so far is simply ridiculous, and we’d all be confident the former Chelsea playmaker will add to that tally against a struggling Everton side this weekend. Kevin De Bruyne remains the best midfielder in the division and arguably the best on the planet. While Haaland gathers all the plaudits for his goals, it is the Belgian who is setting the tone for everybody else on the pitch so far this season.
Everton are in a serious rut right now, and Frank Lampard’s job and future in the Everton dugout certainly hinges on a few of his key players, and one of them is Anthony Gordon. There are some sections of the Toffees support who feel the club missed a vital opportunity in cashing in on the forward for said £50m-£60m when Chelsea and Newcastle United registered their interest in the summer, and a few months on, those views really don’t seem controversial at all.
The 21-year-old wonderkid has lacked the required consistency and quality since those rumours, and hasn’t registered a goal or an assist since October, netting in the 3-0 win over Crystal Palace on home turf after a man-of-the-match performance. Three goals from 12 Premier League starts this campaign seems a decent return but if the Toffees are to rise out of the mire, they desperately need more MOTM performances from their homegrown wonderkid. It’s time Gordon proves he’s been worth all the hype in 2022.
2023 could certainly be the year that makes all breaks him.
Manchester City predicted XI vs Everton: Ederson (GK); Lewis, Stones, Akanji, Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, B.Silva; Mahrez, Haaland, Foden.
Everton predicted XI vs Manchester City: Pickford (GK); Patterson, Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko; Onana, Gueye, Iwobi; Gordon, Maupay, Gray.