Muhamed Besic inspires Everton while Leighton Baines turns back the clock
Roberto Martinez has had good results against Manchester City in past cup competitions, famously winning the 2013 FA Cup final with Wigan, and this latest success, a 2-1 win in the League Cup semifinal first leg, gives his Everton side a slender but deserved advantage ahead of the second leg in three weeks.
Pre-match talk centred on the Goodison Park atmosphere, namely the longstanding anxiety spreading from the terraces to the pitch. There was no reason to fear such a reaction on this occasion though -- Everton players and fans presented a united front.
Even as the visitors began the quicker of the two sides, the home fans stood firmly by their team. When the tide turned and a Muhamed Besic-inspired Everton started to bite back, the crowd backed their team to the hilt. Supporters could see those in royal blue giving everything and responded accordingly.
With doubt and frustration prominent in recent weeks and months, the fan base had started to question Everton's ability to strike the right balance. The players responded with an overdue reminder of their ability to mix attack with defence, and against one of the best teams in the league no less.
Beginning with the same outfield players that ended the 1-1 draw against Tottenham on Sunday, the over-reliance on the right flank faded and Everton attacked down each wing with almost identical frequency. This was a much-improved team performance stemming from a more balanced approach, with an avoidable City goal the only blemish on an otherwise impressive evening.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Joel Robles, 8 -- Both the fans and the Everton defence seem much calmer with Robles between the posts. Two telling saves, one in each half, continued his strong League Cup form and strengthened claims for the No. 1 position.
DF Seamus Coleman, 7 -- Disciplined performance from the Everton right-back, who curbed his natural attacking instincts to help shut down the creative talents of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. His injury in the closing stages is a cruel blow and leaves the Blues horribly short in this position.
DF John Stones, 8 -- A couple of wayward passes early on suggested a tough night but Stones soon eased such fears with a classy display featuring his customary style and tackling ability.
DF Ramiro Funes Mori, 8 -- Scored the opening goal and dealt well with the threat of international teammate Sergio Aguero. This was a significant improvement on recent weeks, both in and out of possession.
DF Leighton Baines, 9 -- This was the Baines of old, marauding up and down the left flank and contributing to attack and defence. Whether it was blocking crosses near his own goal or lung-bursting runs deep into the City half, the 31-year-old was excellent from first whistle to last.
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MF Muhamed Besic, 9 -- Everton came alive after his crunching tackle left Yaya Toure in a heap during the first half. Dominated the midfield with his unruly mix of skill and toughness -- Silva was the unfortunate recipient of both a Besic slide tackle and a Besic pirouette beyond him.
MF Gareth Barry, 9 -- If Besic is the fire in the Everton midfield, Barry is the ice. Calm throughout, never panicking, always showing for the ball, this was another masterclass from a veteran midfielder showing his former employers what they are missing. Barry capped his latest virtuoso display with a perfect cross for the winning goal.
MF Gerard Deulofeu, 7 -- Surprisingly poor delivery in the first half, firing one cross into the side netting and another way beyond the far post, Deulofeu improved in the second half before tiring.
MF Ross Barkley, 7 -- The final ball and decision-making did not click as they might but some of the surrounding elements were a joy to watch. Barkley is becoming a master at engineering space from the tightest of situations with a drop of the shoulder or a sharp piece of footwork.
MF Tom Cleverley, 7 -- Injury curtailed what looked to be another exemplary showing from the one-time Manchester midfielder, his every touch booed by the away fans. Improved the left side with his intelligent movement and positioning and is never afraid to search out Lukaku with a raking pass.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 7 -- Has become such a reliable presence in front of goal that it is now more surprising when he misses -- his winning goal was his 12th in 12 games. Goodison held its collective breath when he limped off.
MF Leon Osman, 7 -- Was never going to match the industry of Cleverley, the player he replaced at half-time, but battled well and showed some neat touches along the way.
MF Kevin Mirallas, 6 -- Replaced the tiring Deulofeu and never quite managed to deliver the performance required but should get another chance in the FA Cup on Saturday.
FW Arouna Kone, N/A -- On for the injured Lukaku in the final 10 minutes, the Ivorian helped the defensive effort.