Signs of the bigger picture in City defeat
It ended in grim fashion, as the financially superior, talented heavyweight toyed with the pretender aiming to upset the established order, but the bigger picture became apparent in a promising beginning -- the desire to match the heavyweight.
Arriving at the home of the money men, Everton (for 45 minutes) offered an ambitious approach indicative of the style and methods employed by Roberto Martinez, instead of a hope-for-the-best containment policy.
That the players eventually regressed into their ineffective shell in the second half -- a shell frequently displayed in these 'big' away games -- owes more to countless years spent wearing an inferiority complex. The key moving forward is the eventual removal of said complex.
A willingness to dictate play embodied the kind of assured, confident start expected of a side unbeaten to this point, as the visitors sauntered around the Etihad in the early stages of this open, entertaining encounter.
Just reward for the arrived in the form of another Romelu Lukaku goal -- the first player to breach the City defence in the first half this season. The young forward evaded the lacklustre defending of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott before beating the under-fire Joe Hart.
Unfortunately, it proved something of a false dawn. The longer the script went on, the quicker the Everton role subsided from leading man to fleeting cameo. Nevertheless, before fading like a number of his team-mates, Lukaku justified the infinite hype surrounding his every move. Capable of holding onto the ball, linking up play and leading the line, his presence has added a new dimension to the side.
Now, in the lead, it was imperative that Everton retained focus and controlled the pace of the game. Alas, the home side found themselves level within a minute or two when Seamus Coleman, who sleepwalked through the entire 90 minutes, failed to track the run of Alvaro Negredo.
The odds on a visiting clean sheet always appeared slim, with Manchester City scoring in each of their 53 home league fixtures prior to this, but it is the manner in which the goals materialised that rankles.
The failure to track overlapping runners, non-existent marking and suspect positioning were prominent throughout, especially for the three goals. Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard failed to convince when Sergio Aguero ensured City entered the interval ahead, which felt harsh on the away side.
If the first two concessions owed to slack defending, the third stemmed from one of those infuriating officiating decisions that underline the maddening lack of consistency from match officials within football.
Having waved away justifiable Everton appeals in the first half, when Matija Nastasic pushed Lukaku over inside the penalty area, Jonathan Moss awarded City a penalty as Pablo Zabaleta crumbled faster than a stale cracker.
Nonetheless, regardless of inept officiating -- how David Silva remained on the pitch is also something of a mystery -- Everton need only gaze into the nearest mirror to apportion blame. The second half showing was void of the qualities evident in a largely impressive opening salvo.
Missing the leadership and defensive qualities of Gareth Barry, and with Darron Gibson lacking match fitness, Everton turned into a ragged, rudderless outfit. Without one or both of them, there is a distinct shortage of vocal, experienced players in the so-called engine room.
One of the few to stand above the parapet was the overworked James McCarthy, who often seemed to be doing the work of two or three. Once again, strong in the tackle, poised in possession, boasting a tireless work ethic, McCarthy impressed. Any question marks surrounding his arrival are evaporating at an ever-increasing pace.
Elsewhere, much like several of his jaded team-mates, Ross Barkley slipped into old routines. The recently improved decision-making evaded the young midfielder, though this merely served as a reminder of his tender age and relative inexperience.
Alongside his midfield counterparts, Kevin Mirallas endured a nightmare. Off the pace throughout, the Belgian gave the appearance of a player short of fitness after picking up a knock against Newcastle. Add this to the frustrating displays of Steven Naismith and Gerard Deulofeu, and the wide midfield positions are definitely up for grabs on recent evidence.
Although well beaten in the end on the back of a disappointing second half, this result does not detract too much from a productive start to the season. Furthermore, the usually hindering international break may benefit, as the unfit and the injured get back up to speed.