League leaders Manchester City head to Goodison Park this weekend to face Frank Lampard's Everton, a side in need of some points. Pep Guardiola's men will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 3-2 loss to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.
It is a crucial game for the Blues, with Liverpool breathing down City's neck, just 3 points behind. The title race is well and truly on. The match is on Saturday the 26th of February and will kick off at 17:30 (GMT) - the fixture will be shown live on Sky Sports Main Event.
In his press conference - Guardiola confirmed that both Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus are available for City this weekend. This is a major boost for City going into the clash with Everton, especially with Jesus having such an excellent goal-scoring record against the Toffees. The Brazilian has scored 8 goals in 9 appearances against Everton. Grealish last played in City's 2-0 victory over Brentford at the start of February but has been out with a minor shin injury. Jesus was last seen for City in the 1-1 draw with Southampton at the end of January.
Ederson, Walker, Stones, Dias, Cancelo, Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo, Mahrez, Foden, Sterling
League position: 1st
Top scorer: Sterling (10)
Previous result: L 2-3 v Tottenham Hotspur (H)
It was a substandard performance from City last weekend, with Spurs snatching 3 points away from the Blues at the death. Nonetheless, it is now time for a reaction, and a statement victory over Liverpool's bitter rivals would be the perfect way to bounce back in the wake of the Spurs nightmare. Title rivals Liverpool are on the hunt and are full of confidence on the back of a 6-0 victory over Leeds United. However, with Liverpool playing in the Carabao Cup Final this Sunday, it is an opportunity for City to once again go 6 points clear at the top of the table. The Blues have been in similar situations in the past and is crucial for the players to use their experience to hold their nerve in the face of adversity.
City thought they had grabbed a point late on against Spurs when Riyad Mahrez excellently dispatched a penalty in the 92nd minute. It wasn't to be, however, as a 95th minute Harry Kane header stole the victory late on to silence the Etihad Stadium. Despite what came after, Mahrez was unbelievably calm under pressure and fired his penalty into the top right corner. The Algerian's penalty record has been terrific for City, with the last one he failed to score being in October 2018, in a 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield. Since then, he has taken, and scored, 9 penalties for City. The Algerian international has scored 18 goals and provided 7 assists in 30 appearances across all competitions this season. City will need him to continue this excellent scoring form in what will be a season-defining run of fixtures in the coming weeks.
The other man on the scoresheet against Spurs was Ilkay Gundogan, who this season has a respectable 7 goals and 4 assists across all competitions. The German international was crucial to City's success last season, stepping up and becoming an unlikely goal threat. He scored 17 goals across all competitions, becoming City's top goal scorer for the season. Gundogan has taken on a more familiar role this season, playing slightly deeper than he did in the previous campaign. He has been a largely underrated figure so far this season, consistently showing his class whenever called upon by Guardiola.
Despite the overwhelming negativity online after the Spurs defeat, City are still in an excellent position. 3 points clear at the top of the table is nothing to be disheartened by and is something that plenty of Blues would have taken earlier in the season. 5-0 up in a Champions League knockout tie with Sporting is a luxury position to be in. The Blues are also still going strong in the FA Cup, with a 5th round tie against Championship side Peterborough on the horizon. City are still fighting on three fronts and are doing an excellent job so far this season.
League position: 16th
Top scorer: Gray (5)
Previous result: L 2-0 v Southampton (A)
The match against City will be Lampard's 5th game for Everton since taking charge. The Englishman has had a mixed start with the Toffees having won 2 and lost 2. Everton are in need of a rection after their disappointing 2-0 loss away at Southampton last weekend. They currently sit 16 in the league, just 2 points above the drop. With Burnley beating Spurs in the week, pressure is starting to mount on Everton, who have only won 6 league matches this season and still have all of the 'big six' teams to play. Historically, Everton have been part of the furniture in terms of the English top-flight, and have never been relegated since the Premier League originated. Everton fans will be expecting that their side can find the answer sooner rather than later.
The injury of Dominic Calvert-Lewin has undoubtedly been a key factor in Everton's tough season. The Englishman sustained a quadriceps injury that led to a four-month spell on the side-line. The England international scored 3 goals in 3 league games at the start of the season, firing Everton towards the top end of the table. However, the injury to their target man left the Toffees with a lack of quality options in the centre-forward position. Solomon Rondon was the obvious replacement up top; however, the Venezuelan has only managed 1 goal in 14 league appearances this season. Last season, Calvert Lewin was key to Everton's attack; he managed 16 goals in 33 league appearances, placing him 6th in the race for Golden Boot.
In spite of Lampard being appointed late in the transfer window, he did manage to make his mark on the squad by adding midfielders Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek. The Netherlands international will be paid in full by the Toffees, however, they do not have an option to buy him on a permanent deal from Manchester United. Dele-Alli signed for Everton on a two-and-a-half-year deal, the Toffees could end up paying Spurs a reported £40 million in add-ons. The 25-year-old needed a change as things went incredibly stale at Spurs, and with Lampard's guidance, the Englishman could become a valuable asset for the Toffees.
Manchester City have an excellent record of late against the Toffees, winning all of their last 9 meetings. The last time Everton beat City was in 2017, a famous 4-0 thumping at Goodison Park in Guardiola's first season with City. The last time City and Everton met was in November, a comfortable 3-0 victory at the Etihad which included a ridiculous assist from Joao Cancelo for Raheem Sterling in the first half, and a thunderous strike from Rodri in the second. It can be nothing other than a 10th victory on the bounce against Everton, with Liverpool so close behind, another slip-up could be extremely costly for the Blues.
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Lee Betts & Stuart Burt
Fourth official: Martin Atkinson
VAR: Chris Kavanagh
Assistant VAR: Gary Beswick
Written by: @CharleyLongden
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