Everton travel to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday hoping to hold on to their slender first-leg advantage and move a step closer to a first trophy since 1995

 

The Toffees are going through a bad patch of form at the moment having registered just one win in their last 10 Premier League games, but the win against Manchester City in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final should give them confidence going into the decisive fixture of the tie on Wednesday.

Manchester City are still competing on four fronts, and although the League Cup might not mean as much to them as it does to Roberto Martínez’s men, Manuel Pellegrini will be aware that winning the cup could act as a catalyst for his side to push on and perform in the Premier League and even the UEFA Champions League knock-out stages.

Manuel Pellegrini v Roberto Martínez

The Chilean has an excellent record against his Spanish counterpart since the two joined their current clubs in the summer of 2013, and Manchester City are yet to lose in the Premier League against Martínez’s Everton — winning four and drawing two of their previous meetings.

In fact, Everton’s 2-1 first-leg win at Goodison Park was the first time Martínez got the better of Pellegrini in six attempts, and he will be looking to add a second scalp on Wednesday to progress through to a potential final showdown against arch rivals Liverpool FC at Wembley.

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Pellegrini could play a more attacking line-up at home to turn things around

With no away goals rule unless extra-time is involved, Manchester City will have to win by two goals if they want to go through to the final in 90 minutes. Add to that the fact that the Citizens will be at home, and we could see a more attacking line-up from Manuel Pellegrini on Wednesday compared to the first leg.

Manchester City vs Crystal Palace

The Chilean is known to adhere rigidly to his football philosophy of possession-based, proactive football, and that is unlikely to change against an Everton side who are themselves quite capable of playing attractive football. In fact, the two sides rank first (Manchester City) and second (Everton) in terms of goals scored from open play in the Premier League this season (via WhoScored.com).

Manchester City will likely stick to their 4-2-3-1 formation, but unlike the first leg, Yaya Touré could be employed in one of the two holding midfield roles to allow either Raheem Sterling or Jesús Navas to join David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in the three attacking roles behind the striker.

Everton’s sloppiness in defence has seen them concede several entirely preventable goals in the recent past, and Pellegrini could look to use the directness and pace of Sterling or Navas to get in behind the Toffees back four and disrupt their defensive organisation. This could be particularly effective in attacking transitions given Martínez’s midfield is not very quick, and it was from a counter-attack that Manchester City got their goal at Goodison Park in the first leg, with Gareth Barry unable to recover and get goalside of Navas.

Martínez will look to cause damage on the break at the Etihad

Everton’s problems this season have largely centred around their defensive vulnerability, and those issues look like the may stem from the style of football Martínez wants his side to play. The Toffees have conceded 18 goals in their last 10 Premier League games, and at the moment, it appears to be too easy to find gaps in the back four and play passes in behind them.

Everton FC vs Manchester United

In addition, they have made mistakes playing out from the back, and that has invited more pressure from teams who like to press high up the pitch — as most Premier League teams do, even if not for the full 90 minutes. A particularly revealing statistic is that only Norwich City have made fewer interceptions per game in the league than the Toffees, suggesting that the Merseysiders have allowed the opposition to play between their defensive lines far too easily this season.

However, Martínez’s side are excellent on the counter-attack, with only Leicester City scoring more goals than them on the break, while Everton also have the players to attack defenders one on one and create chances from the flanks —  FC Barcelona academy graduate Gerard Deulofeu the prime example. The Toffees have more successful dribbles per game than any other side in the league this season (12.7) with the exception of Arsenal FC, and isolating Manchester City defenders will be an aim for the away side on Wednesday.

Everton’s success will largely depend on how compact they can be defensively and how effectively they can close down space in their defensive third, as well as how efficient they can be on the counter-attack.

Key Battles

Sergio Agüero v John Stones/Phil Jagielka

Manchester City v Everton

The Argentina superstar has been in fine form of late, scoring six goals in his last six games after making his return from injury. Agüero is among the most complete strikers in world football, and is capable of scoring all types of goals, which makes him one of the most dangerous strikers in the penalty area.

Given his ability to get away a shot in the tightest of spaces and his alertness and skill in general, John Stones and Phil Jagielka will have to remain as tight to him as possible and track his movement in the box for the entire 90 minutes if they want to make sure he has a quiet game.

Ross Barkley v Fernandinho/Fernando/Fabian Delph

Everton vs Manchester City

Ross Barkley’s mercurial talent has been apparent for some time, and the Englishman now needs to add consistency to his game to be considered a top player. However, his pace and skill on the ball make him a big threat, and Manchester City will have to make sure he is not given time and space to cause damage.

Fernandinho, Fernando or Fabian Delph (or indeed any combination of the three) could be played in the holding midfield roles on Wednesday, and they will have to make sure they track Barkley’s movement in the attacking third to try and close him down as quickly as possible when he gets on the ball.

Romelu Lukaku v Eliaquim Mangala/Nicolás Otamendi

Everton vs Chelsea

The Manchester City defence has been a problem area throughout the season in the absence of the influential Vincent Kompany, and Pellegrini’s men continue to concede questionable goals due to silly errors. Otamendi in particular has been poor, and his defending for West Ham’s second goal last Saturday was representative of the types of positional errors he has been making.

As such, Lukaku will be a big threat in the second leg, and the Belgian has the power and pace to get in behind the City back four, particularly given Pellegrini’s men will play a high defensive line. The extent to which City’s centre-back pairing can keep the former Chelsea FC striker quiet will have a big say in the outcome of the match.

Manchester City

Strengths

  • Manchester City are one of most fluid sides in the league, and their 31 goals from open play — more than any other side in the division– suggest they are among the best in terms of their creativity and attacking movement.
  • Sergio Agüero is the best striker in the division when he is fully fit, and his ability to convert half chances gives Manchester City that additional bit of fire-power they may need to beat the better teams in the country.

Weaknesses

  • The defence has obviously been a weak point for the Citizens, and lot of the problems have been of their own making. Mangala and Otamendi still don’t seem to be comfortable playing together at the heart of the defence, and it seems far too easy to drag the City back four out of position.
  • A lack of a plan B could hurt the Citizens at some point, with Pellegrini seemingly very reluctant to abandon his possession-based philosophy in favour of a more pragmatic approach.

Everton

Strengths

  • Everton are very good on the counter-attack, and can cause a lot of damage through the likes of Barkley, Lennon, Deulofeu and Lukaku, among others.
  • The Toffees have players who are not afraid to take on defenders, and this adds an extra dimension to their attack.

Weaknesses

  • As with City, Everton’s problems at the back have proved costly. However, they have been largely preventable. In each of Everton’s last two Premier League games, mix-ups and lack of communication between Tim Howard and his defenders have cost the Toffees a goal.
  • The absence of a defensively robust, box-to-box partner for Gareth Barry (with Muhamed Bešić ruled out of Wednesday’s semi-final) could be a problem given the clever movement of City’s attacking midfielders.

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