Aside from Everton’s glut of long-term injuries – Lacina Traore, Darron Gibson, Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo – they will also be without Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar. Leighton Baines should be fit after going off against Southampton on Saturday with a knee problem. While Roberto Martinez has said Phil Jagielka should be available, Sylvain Distin is only “50-50” to recover from a hamstring injury. Gareth Barry, meanwhile, on loan from City, is ineligible. As well as the familiar absence of Matija Nastasic, City will be without David Silva and Jesus Navas, compromising their options at the front of midfield.
Manchester City have played Everton 16 times at Goodison Park in the Premier League and they’ve won just twice, in 1992 and 2009. Past records are always of doubtful importance, particularly for a club like Manchester City whose status has changed so dramatically over those 22 years, but still, given City have lost on their last four visits to Everton, it’s worth asking both whether that might have a psychological effect and also whether there is any clear tactical reason that they should struggle there. A potential answer perhaps lies in pitch sizes: City have the largest pitch in the Premier League at 116.5x78yards, while Everton’s, at 110x74, is the third smallest.
Confirmation of the theory would come if City had struggled against West Ham and Tottenham, the two teams with even smaller pitches. City have twice beaten Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane in recent years, but those are their only wins there in 10 fixtures since they moved into the Etihad (and both were somewhat freakish, the first coming amid transfer chaos at the beginning of 2011-12 and the second after Danny Rose had been sent off during the most gaping phase of Tim Sherwood’s preference for open football).
That said, City have won four of eight games at Upton Park since 2003, which is neither good enough to refute the theory or bad enough to confirm it. Still, it may be that faced with the combination of a tactically disciplined side such as Everton were under David Moyes and a small pitch, City struggle to settle into a passing rhythm made easier at home not only by the vastness of their pitch but by the fact that the Etihad has the thickest weave (more blades per square foot) of any ground in the UK, giving them, theoretically at least, the smoothest surface.
One of Everton’s great strengths this season has been the form of the two full-backs, Baines and Seamus Coleman, and their capacity to offer an attacking threat – five assists and an average of 2.5 key passes per game between them this season according to whoscored.com. If Baines is out – which, in Oviedo’s absence would probably mean the 20-year-old Luke Garbutt replacing him – that clearly impinge on that threat, but if both are there, it presents City with a problem. James Milner, perhaps, could come in on the right to try to block in Baines, but Samir Nasri is not the most diligent in his tracking, which could create opportunities for Everton.
THE MIDDLE OF MIDFIELD
The absence of Barry is a huge loss for Everton. Leon Osman, presumably, will drop in alongside James McCarthy on the middle of midfield, with Ross Barkley coming in to play off Romelu Lukaku. That may give Everton more creative options, but it does lessen their chances of preventing City from dominating possession or putting pressure on the pairing of Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, whose occasional defensive shortcomings would otherwise have been area Everton might have felt they could exploit.
City have had the third highest percentage of possession this season, Everton the fifth highest: 57.4% and 55.5% respectively (according to whoscored.com). Clearly that cannot continue when they face each other. Roberto Martinez may have given Everton a more progressive, passing approach than they had last season, but they remain ferocious competitors. Figures from Squawka.com show that no side has won a higher proportion of their aerials, tackles and take-ons than Everton, but for all that battle, City ended up controlling the ball at the Etihad earlier in the season. Everton did take the lead in that game, but in the end City were able to take control of those central areas, having 54% possession and were relatively comfortable in a 3-1 win. Without Barry again, they may not be able to reverse that at home.
There was a sense of Everton running out of steam at Southampton on Sunday, although a number of key personnel should return. With Arsenal now just a win from sealing fourth place, all Everton can hope to do is put pressure on them, but the urgency of the chase for Champions League qualification is over and without Barry it’s hard to see how they can prevent City controlling the centre. 1.72 seems a little short on City to win, so it may be worth looking at them to win to nil at 3.50.