In Everton’s five fixtures so far this season, Ronald Koeman has used four players on the right side of his defence, with new signing Cuco Martina, Mason Holgate, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all deployed in that position.
With Martina featuring against Ružomberok and Hajduk Split, Calvert-Lewin against Stoke and Davies in Slovakia, Monday night saw Holgate given the opportunity to stake his claim for the spot.
And 90 minutes later, the former Barnsley youngster had caught the eye with an assured display that very nearly yielded the clean sheet needed to take all three points.
For Holgate to have the misfortune of seeing his header drop straight at the feet of Raheem Sterling, presenting the City forward with the opportunity to level, was harsh and undeserved.
Prior to that moment, he had marshalled City’s livewire German Leroy Sané so well that home manager Pep Guardiola ended up substituting him. And even when Sané did escape Holgate’s attention, the youngster refused to give up, tracking him half the length of the pitch before sliding in to clear the danger.
In a big arena against an expensively-assembled attack, Holgate learned a lesson the hard way but did his chances of securing the right-back spot no harm.
Striking Performance From Dominic
As mentioned above, Dominic Calvert-Lewin found himself in the unfamiliar role of wing-back on the opening day of the Premier League season against Stoke.
He has also been deployed on the wing and through the middle and it was in the latter position where he found himself against City. Arrayed before him? Three international centre halves in Vincent Kompany, John Stones and Nicholas Otamendi with a combined 134 appearances for their respective nations.
Yet Calvert-Lewin produced a fearless performance, just like Holgate, troubling the City back line whenever he could with his direct, intelligent running, hold up play and willingness to travel with the ball.
It was the young striker who picked up the accolade of laying on Wayne Rooney’s 200th Premier League goal after showing the wherewithal to time his pass into his strike partner’s feet, allowing him to steer it in off the post.
With Ronald Koeman making no secret of his desire for a striker before the transfer window shuts, here was a timely reminder that should a new frontman come in, there will be plenty of competition for places.
Rooney Reaches Milestone
Given Wayne Rooney boasts eight goals in Premier League matches against Manchester City – second behind Alan Shearer with 11 against the Citizens – it was little surprise he netted his 200th Premier League strike against Guardiola’s men.
In fact, the Spaniard parked any emotions he felt over the result at the full-time whistle to immediately seek out and congratulate Rooney.
It is Shearer who leads the way in terms of total Premier League goals scored (260) but Rooney became only the second player to reach 200.
And, if his second goal of the campaign wasn’t enough, the stats showed he also covered the most ground of any Everton player, running a healthy 10.6km.
Blues boss Koeman opted for a 3-5-2 formation to kick off Monday night’s game, with Rooney asked to link an energetic midfield triumvirate of Morgan Schneiderlin, Tom Davies and Idrissa Gana Gueye with lead forward Calvert-Lewin.
The game plan, which Koeman said his players followed to the letter in the first half, was clearly to frustrate City and try to make the most of any opportunities that came Everton’s way.
At half-time it was a case of job done but, on the hour mark, Koeman had spied the need for a change.
On came Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson – the latter for his debut – in order to try to keep retention of the ball, with the Toffees switching to 4-2-3-1 with the aim of pinning back Fernandinho, Otamendi and Kompany, who were finding opportunities to pick their passes.
But for a stroke of misfortune, the plan worked, and looking at the wider picture, Everton’s ability to chop and change mid-game will prove a useful weapon to have.
“It’s not often you see that at a top club,” reflected Michael Keane when quizzed about Everton’s eight Englishman in their starting line-up at the Etihad.
And he’s right. This was the first time the Blues had done so since Boxing Day 1997.
With England facing World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia in early September, there are places up for grabs in Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad.
And who was in the stands to watch Everton’s octet face City? The England manager himself.