MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City in action with Phil Jagielka of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
The refrain "the type of game they wouldn't have won last year" is one that is often-used, and if we are being honest, largely over-used given that matches are in fact very rarely similar at all. Where there is common ground though is in certain situations and aspects within games: yesterday being a case in point. Putting to one side the ending of Everton's recent dominance what was telling is that in the face of an obdurate and stifling opponent, City were still able to pull through and get the points. Now a handful of games into the 2011/12 season teams will have had opportunity to look at City's style of play and gameplan to try and effectively counter it, which Everton certainly set out to do. There were times last season - the Birmingham game where Roberto Mancini felt the wrath of the crowd - where City failed in this regard but what the summer additions have afforded Mancini not just the luxury of numbers but in adapting shape and style far more than last year when at times the side appeared one-dimensional. As proved yesterday, this could be a real difference maker over the course of the season.
Telling then that it was two of the substitutes introduced by Mancini - Mario Balotelli and James Milner - who go the goals to seal victory. My own thoughts were that Carlos Tevez would be the one to replace Edin Dzeko (who struggled amongst the heavy presence of an Everton defence) - his greater movement being key. On reflection (and hindsight being a tremendous ally) the Balotelli move was a smart one and the attack (aligned with a tactical switch) profited from having more space in the final third and ultimately got the breakthrough. His subsequent celebration belied suggestions of a fractious relationship with his manager and with Mancini fulsome in his recent praise it does appear as though Balotelli has leapfrogged Carlos Tevez in the pecking order.
Although on previous visits Everton have come with an approach of containment and counter-attacking play, there appeared far less licence in their play yesterday. City, over the past couple of seasons, have had attacking threat in their side but there are now more options. Often when City were in and around the edge of the area there was all but one or two Everton players behind the line of the ball to thwart an attack. This they were largely succesfull in doing but with an increased focus on stopping City how much did it detract from their ability to attack themselves?
It would be remiss to not touch on David Moyes's post-match comments in which he focussed criticism on the referee and on Vincent Kompany for his part in the incident that led to an injury to Tim Cahill, saying:
"It is a terrible tackle. I have seen it again. His foot goes right on his shin. I am disappointed it wasn't spotted."
At the time, the debate on twitter was whether Cahill should have been shown a red, not a yellow for the challenge so there surprise when I picked up on Moyes's post-match comments. Having seen numerous replays of the incident now I fail to see a stamp from Kompany; the Belgian only protecting the ball and himself from the impending challenge, which in fact was a lunge with the trailing leg following through. There appeared to have been a lot of questions to Moyes with regards tactics, of which he shouldn't have to justify, but his counter-claims smacked of someone trying to deflect attention from themselves.
One player who found himself at the forefront of Everton's tactics was David Silva, who found himself closely marked by Jack Rodwell throughout and flickered more than shone for the most part. When he did however, he again produced some fantastic moments - none more so than the move which saw him hold possession well and then release James Milner with a wonderful pass (weighted and placed so perfectly) for the second goal. What is often overlooked with Silva though is how well he copes with the physical aspect of the game in the Premier League, undeterred by the attention he is faced with following such a stellar debut season. The sublime touch and vision are visibly apparent but beneath the effulgent exterior lies too a steely determination: the cojones that Vicente del Bosque suggested defines a large part of his character.