Everton-Manchester City Preview
Manchester City and Everton avoided each other in the FA Cup fourth-round draw, but they're still going to become plenty familiar this month.
While Roberto Martinez's side got the best of City last week at Goodison Park in the League Cup, it's top-flight points the Toffees covet, and that's not something Etihad Stadium visitors have come by easily this season. The clubs are guaranteed at least four meetings this season, and the second of three in three weeks' time comes Wednesday.
"I've never come up against the same team as often as this, and it is a pretty quick turnaround," City's Raheem Sterling told the club's official website of the rash of meetings with the Merseyside rival of his former club.
They met back on Aug. 23 in the reverse fixture with City running out 2-0 winners, though Everton came through with a 2-1 win on Jan. 6 in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal. That'll conclude Jan. 27 at the Etihad, after which they figure to be plenty tired of each other, though there's still the potential of another tie as the FA Cup road narrows. Both were more fortunate with their fourth-round draws announced Monday - City facing either Aston Villa or Wycombe and Everton are opposite Carlisle United or Yeovil Town.
But first things first in the division: City are in third and three points off the top with Arsenal and Leicester City both facing difficult fixtures this weekend. Everton are 12 points back of City in 11th, still spinning their wheels in the bottom half after three successive seasons climbing a spot, which will peak at last campaign's finish in fifth unless there's a substantial turnaround.
Manuel Pellegrini's club pushed on in the FA Cup with Saturday's 3-0 win at Norwich City, and they've started to see the Sergio Aguero they relied on prior to injury this fall. The Argentine scored at Carrow Road and also netted the 84th-minute winner in a 2-1 league final at Watford on Jan. 2.
"When Sergio starts playing more games, he always improves his performance," Pellegrini said after the Norwich match. "He scored a beautiful goal and I'm sure that every game he plays he will perform because we know that he is a top player."
The same can be said about Romelu Lukaku, who struck for the 12th time in 12 matches in last week's win over City. It was Everton's first win in the last six meetings, and they've taken one point from the last four matches in Manchester.
Lukaku then rested an ankle injury in Saturday's 2-0 home win over Dagenham & Redbridge in the FA Cup and is hopeful to face City.
No matter who's doing Martinez's attacking, Everton's consecutive cup wins now need to spill over into the league. The Toffees have seven points from their last seven top-flight matches (1-4-2), and for all that's made of a plus-7 goal differential that hints at maybe deserving better in the table, they don't yet have a league win against any team presently in the top half.
Martinez hopes last week's win over City was a sign of that changing.
"We went eye-to-eye with a very good team," Martinez told the club's official website. "We conceded a goal from a good counter-attack, but the winning mentality that we showed to get back and win the game was very impressive.
"It was an example of how far we've come. We faced Man City in August and we were probably missing a little bit of the character we showed tonight."
Martinez then used the latest cup match against the fourth-tier Daggers as an opportunity to re-introduce Phil Jagielka to the lineup. The skipper played 90 minutes after sitting out since Oct. 24 due to a knee injury.
"There were quite a few of us out there who needed game time, so it was good to get out there and play," Jagielka said. "There wasn't a massive amount to do defensively and it was quite a gentle way to be brought back into the team.
"Obviously, the two previous games that we'd had would've been a bit more testing, and there's some testing ones coming up now."
City, meanwhile, remain without their captain as Vincent Kompany is out with a recurrent calf injury, though that might not be as much of a concern with consecutive Premier League matches coming at home. The Citizens have gone 12-0-3 in all competitions at the Etihad this season with a plus-26 goal differential, but Everton have lost once on the road this season in all competitions (6-5-1) with a plus-9 goal differential.