LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31: Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill (L) of Everton compete with Samir Nasri of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park on January 31, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
The more things change, the more they remain the same. The past few seasons have seen City build themselves into genuine title challengers, so much so that they top the Premier League heading into February - a position that the last eight Premier League winners have occupied - yet season after season they have returned from Goodison Park empty handed against a spirited and determined Everton side, where tonight after falling behind they lacked the drive and urgency until too late in the game to be take something from the game.
It was perhaps no surprise that it was goalless at the half. After all, between the two sides they had conceded only ten goals (City four and Everton six) in the first forty-five minutes of games this season. City certainly looked the better side; David Silva and Samir Nasri instrumental in midfield, Nasri in particular continuing a recent spell of good form and the expectation was that after the break City would kick on and make the possession and territorial advantage count. It was Everton who took the lead though and falling behind certainly rattled City, who (not the first time when conceding) lost their composure for a spell, were at times ill-disciplined and lacked the assurance needed to get back into the game.
Of concern of late has been a distinct lack of cutting edge to City's play. In the main the build up and creativity is still there but the clinical nature in evidence during the early months of the season has dissipated since the turn of the year (a spell that has seen City suffer four defeats so far in 2012). This is particularly ill-timed given the current suspension of Mario Balotelli that leaves Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero as the only two strikers available to Roberto Mancini. Of late, Dzeko has been out of form and rarely posed a threat to the Everton defence whilst Aguero was too often on the fringes of play, sparking into life only intermittently and it may be that he is feeling the strainand pace of a Premier League season. Mancini had Adam Johnson to call upon from the bench as an attacking option but it was telling that his second and third substitutions were the introduction of Aleksandar Kolarov and Nigel de Jong. The loan transfer of David Pizarro has been confirmed which will help to a degree, but over the remainder of the season will City rue being handcuffed (in not being able to bring in a replacement whilst he is still at the club) by the ongoing Carlos Tevez saga?
News that Ivory Coast have progressed into the quarter-finals will not have been met with much joy by City fans given that it prolongs the absence of Yaya Toure even further. There are a number of key components in the City side but - and not to diminish the impact that the likes of Vincent Kompany or David Silva have on the side - but the side looks to have lost a step without Toure's presence. The drive and impetus that he provides allows those around him the scope (and less responsibility) to have an effect on the game. Whereas in all other areas Mancini has depth and quality to bring in it cannot be coincidental that a cooling off in form of late has occurred with his absence.
Oh for a game without any focus on the referee. After hardly being enamoured by some recent refereeing decisions, City will again feel they have just cause for grievance. On another Edin Dzeko may well have a won a free-kick in the build up to Everton's goal, whilst a week after Micah Richards conceded a penalty from a 'ball to hand' situation City were again left rueing a handball decision on Merseyside as Peter waved play-on when Kolarov's cross struck Phil Neville's arm. Perhaps most intriguing though was when Joleon Lescott had a free-kick awarded against him, when replays showed that it was he, not Tim Howard, who was guilty of a push in the penalty area.