Manchester City overpower Everton to reach Capital One Cup final
MANCHESTER, England - Three thoughts from Manchester City's 3-1 victory over Everton to clinch a spot in the Capital One Cup final.
1. City end hopes of a derby final
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be disappointed. So, too, will many on Merseyside. The hopes of a Wembley derby in the Capital One Cup final survived for most of the night, but in the end Manchester City were just too powerful and just too potent for Everton. Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero struck within seven second-half minutes to make City winners on the night and over the tie. A 3-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium secured a 4-3 aggregate triumph, and City will meet Liverpool on Feb. 28 at the national stadium. They remain on course to win the Capital One Cup for the second time in three seasons under Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean deserves credit for that. The probability remains that he will leave in the summer, but he is not allowing his own future to be a distraction. He might bow out a winner yet. If this threatened to be one of those nights when Pellegrini got his team selection and tactics wrong, his midmatch changes undid the damage and permitted a memorable comeback. The only real blot on City's night was the sight of De Bruyne being stretchered off, meaning they finished with 10 men.
It helps, of course, to have players of the calibre of the catalytic Belgian and the outstanding Aguero. The collective showed that, while they are flawed, City are also spirited. They were 3-1 down on aggregate when Ross Barkley struck. Fernandinho and De Bruyne brought them level, the latter controversially. The ball was clearly out before Raheem Sterling centred for the Belgian to slot in his shot. The £54 million man nevertheless proved the definition of an impact substitute, supplying the cross for Aguero's decider. Its execution was brilliant, the Argentinian guiding a header inside the far post with perfect precision for his fifth goal in three games.
Everton emerged with credit over the tie, but defeat will nevertheless bring renewed scrutiny of manager Roberto Martinez. Their underwhelming league form could have been excused if they had ended a 21-year wait for silverware. Now their only chance of doing that is in the FA Cup. The fact they went toe to toe with City over 180 enthralling minutes indicates their ability, but Everton have still never won this competition and, for a 32nd successive season, have not even reached the final.
2. Toure is no diamond as Barkley shines
Sometimes criticised for tactical inflexibility, Pellegrini sprung a surprise by installing a midfield diamond and placing Yaya Toure at its base. It was a left-field move that backfired. Pellegrini abandoned the tactic at half-time when introducing Jesus Navas. It was a tacit admission of failure. This particular diamond certainly was not forever.
Toure formed part of the problem. He arrived at City with a reputation as a defensive midfielder. He has shed that since and, in six seasons at the club, might never have been the deepest midfielder. The Ivorian has been found wanting without the ball at times -- not least when Cheikhou Kouyate sped past him to set up Enner Valencia's first-minute opener for West Ham against City on Saturday -- and this reshuffle presented him with the test of subduing Barkley.
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It was rendered all the more intriguing as the Merseysider is a player City have considered in their search for a long-term replacement for the veteran. The future felt the more compelling choice when, with Toure trying to cover on the right, Barkley burst beyond and behind him to drill Everton into the lead. It was far from the only occasion in which the 22-year-old eluded a man a decade his senior. Indeed when Barkley was unceremoniously upended, it was by Fabian Delph, not Toure. The Evertonian was excellent. The counter-argument is that he was allowed to be.
Toure was happier on the edge of the Everton box, curling a shot just over. At least his deeper role permitted others to get forward, and Fernandinho, who often offers dynamism, surged upfield to level, aided by a hefty deflection off Leighton Baines. Come the second half, the Brazilian was relocated to join Toure in a central duo, with Delph sacrificed to bring on Navas with reverting to the more familiar 4-2-3-1.
When De Bruyne was then summoned, Toure's unhappy evening came to a premature end. It is rare that Pellegrini substitutes his vice captain when he needs a goal, but it was a night to suggest that his star is waning, and the Belgian duly provided the strike to bring the aggregate score level before setting up the decider. The City manager is entitled to argue he rectified his earlier errors.
3. Everton can't defend their lead
Remarkably, Martinez had said before the game that "my philosophy and my way of working is not to keep clean sheets." Perhaps still more extraordinarily, his Everton enigmas were the only team to prevent City from scoring at home in the past year. Yet that came in a stalemate two weeks earlier. On Wednesday night there was no repeat.
A clean sheet would have secured Everton's place at Wembley, but that was not to happen. This, Martinez's critics might say, was normal service resumed. Everton were breached three times and inches from conceding five. Aguero rifled a shot against the foot of the post, with Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles recovering superbly to keep out David Silva's attempt from the rebound. Then the diminutive Silva stretched to meet Pablo Zabaleta's cross, heading that against the upright.
Martinez used his classiest and quickest central defender, John Stones, at right-back, with Seamus Coleman having played only 23 minutes of football since the first leg. It meant Phil Jagielka was pitted against the speedier Aguero, who was electric. Yet the Everton captain was dogged. The issue lay further forward.
Pellegrini had a concentration of midfielders in central zones, attacking areas where Everton were weaker. With James McCarthy deemed fit enough for a place only on the bench, Gareth Barry was partnered with the more lightweight Tom Cleverley. How Everton missed the muscle of the injured Muhamed Besic, who had excelled in the first leg. The 3-3 draw at Chelsea apart, Everton had been more solid with the Bosnian in the team. Cleverley does not offer the same sort of protection, and while Martinez's decision to substitute Gerard Deulofeu brought boos from the Everton fans, bringing on McCarthy made sense. By then, however, the momentum was with City, and they struck twice more. Everton will face Liverpool again but only in the league and not at Wembley.
Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.