Everton were unable to put a dent in Manchester City’s undefeated home record despite summoning a second-half fightback at the Etihad Stadium.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed in Lucas Digne’s cross on 65 minutes to haul Everton right back into the contest after goals from Gabriel Jesus either side of half-time had put City firmly in control.
Within four minutes of Calvert-Lewin’s effort, though, City had daylight once more, substitute Raheem Sterling heading home a left-wing delivery from Fernandinho.
Everton’s best piece of football in the opening half would have resulted in them claiming the advantage had Richarlison been able to steer his finish a couple of yards lower.
The Brazilian, operating down the right, made for the back post where he was found by Digne’s measured cross. Richarlison, though, could not get his right foot over the ball and ended up steering his effort too high to trouble Ederson.
City ‘keeper Ederson saved from Calvert-Lewin on three minutes, albeit the Everton forward, making his first start since September 29, had strayed a fraction offside to latch onto Gylfi Sigurdsson’s threaded ball.
That early sighter of goal reflected Everton’s positive approach. Marco Silva set up his team to make life very difficult for Manchester City, to close off spaces and disrupt the hosts’ passing, but not at the cost of their own attacking ambition.
City were growing a mite frustrated, more so when Fabian Delph’s rising drive cleared Jordan Pickford’s crossbar.
Leroy Sane led a purposeful City attack on 21 minutes, the German pinging a pass infield before receiving the return and sliding in Ilkay Gundogan on the left.
Michael Keane intercepted the midfielder's cross, steering it goalwards and forcing Pickford to dive to his left and turn behind. Keane’s intervention was necessary with Jesus lurking at the back post.
Jesus got his chance on City’s very next attack, however. Yerry Mina’s clearance from deep was gobbled up in midfield by Gundogan. He promptly played forward to Sane, who was equally swift in releasing the ball to Jesus. The slight South American advanced a stride or two and swiped his finish low beyond Pickford.
Ederson had to fist out a thundering low Seamus Coleman cross as Everton sought a response.
Jesus had the ball in the net again on the stroke of half-time but the flag was already up for offside. It was the second time in a matter of minutes the City striker was left screaming at the skies after Pickford leapt to his right to save a ferocious strike when Jesus caught the ball flush at the top of its bounce from 12 yards out.
Jesus used his head to double City’s lead and his own goal tally five minutes after the break.
Delph caressed a loose ball first time to Sane on the left. The winger’s cross was precise and Jesus used his neck muscles to apply the power to a finish which flew into the roof of Pickford’s net.
Everton stuck in the contest, though. The proactive Silva threw on forward duo Ademola Lookman and Theo Walcott, switched to a back four and put Richarlison through the middle.
Steadily Everton clawed back a share of possession. And after Lookman pinned back the hosts with a driving run through the middle of the pitch, the Blues were able to grab their lifeline.
City could only clear as far as Digne on the left. And when the Frenchman’s cross dropped in the middle of the box it was met by the head of Calvert-Lewin, glancing across Ederson and into the corner.
Having gained a foothold in the game, Everton were swiftly knocked back out of their stride. Fernandinho linked with Jesus on the left, the midfielder steadily progressing to the byline before standing up a cross for Sterling – just on for Sane – to head high into the net.
Still Everton refused to buckle. Richarlison shot over from 18 yards after a sharp one-two with Lookman.
And after Lookman’s run and cross down the left set up Walcott, the England international scuffed his effort off target.
Lookman shot wide after dribbling infield from the left and a Richarlison run down the middle ended with his attempt nicking off a City body and flying behind.
The match ended with Keane and City defender Aymeric Laporte being tended to on the turf after being wiped out by Ederson, barrelling through a scrum of bodies to clear.
It was perhaps an apt note on which to conclude a competitive contest.
More and more Premier League teams are choosing damage limitation over a rescue bid when trailing away at one of the division’s more intimidating arenas.
A desire not to hurt morale perhaps underpins this creeping trend, with sides preferring to slink off home fairly content with a slim defeat and minimal harm to their goal difference column.
Certainly, plenty of teams would have shut up shop when 2-0 down at Manchester City with 40 minutes to play.
Marco Silva looked back at his bench, weighed up his options and called forward two progressive attackers in the shape of Ademola Lookman and Theo Walcott.
Silva had promised his side’s plan would alter at various junctures of the match and here he was true to his word, thinking on his feet and still plotting ways for his side to recover.
Everton switched to a front two – Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin - for good measure, with Walcott and Lookman deployed as out-and-out wingers.
In his 33 minutes on the pitch, Lookman caused City any number of problems.
Home right-back Kyle Walker was barely spotted as an attacking force in this period. He found it hard to keep a lid on his young opponent, too.
Lookman set up chances for Walcott and Richarlison with slick passes inside. He had the confidence to embark on a run from the left and strike fractionally wide with 10 minutes remaining, too.
Walcott, playing as an authentic right-winger, was prepared to run at Fabian Delph and with a cleaner connection would have converted Lookman’s cut back.
Moreover, if Calvert-Lewin could have got just a bit more on Walcott’s menacing low cross with eight minutes left on the clock, Everton would have been back within striking distance of City and set for a grandstand finish.
Calvert-Lewin Takes His Chance
This was a first Premier League start in nearly three months for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, selected to provide Everton with speed and strength at the top of their attack.
The striker had one of his finest games for the Club in this arena last season when he ran an all-international City back three ragged.
Calvert-Lewin’s industry was similarly unstinting here.
The 21-year-old was utterly fearless and showed a pleasing adaptability in being able to carry a lone fight to City, before working intelligently in tandem with Richarlison.
Calvert-Lewin took his goal excellently – a third strike of the campaign. And he might have had another if his improvised attempt from Theo Walcott’s late cross had evaded the diving Ederson.
He is a valuable asset for Silva, versatile in his ability to operate in a variety of positions and execute a number of jobs over the course of 90 minutes. Calvert-Lewin will engage defenders in a physical battle, he'll run at them and beyond them, he's skilful and a real handful in the air.
The former Sheffield United player does everything asked of him off the ball, retreating when Everton are happy to let their opponents reach halfway, chasing like a demon when the plan is to press.
This was a 58th Premier League appearance for a footballer who left the lower leagues little more than two years ago and is still four months away from turning 22. It is a game he should reflect on with some satisfaction.
New Look For Blues
The three-man backline employed by Marco Silva for the first time in his Everton reign triggered a series of subtle changes all over the pitch.
It allowed for a good deal of flexibility, too, with Silva’s side retreating into a rigid defensive shape without possession but exploding into a more dynamic framework when they had the ball.
The value of having three defenders grouped close together was demonstrated very early in the contest. No sooner had Gabriel Jesus wriggled free of Michael Keane in the box than Kurt Zouma stepped across to slam the door in the Brazilian’s face.
With Lucas Digne and Seamus Coleman tucking in next to the giant sentries of Zouma, Keane and Yerry Mina, Everton presented an imposing barrier for a home side so accustomed to dicing through the heart of opponents with their distinctive brand of pretty passing and mesmerising movement.
When Everton claimed possession, however, the picture changed in a heartbeat. On the quarter hour, Mina looked up and spied Digne advancing deep into City territory. The Colombian’s pass was perfect, with Digne’s cross flighted onto the toes of Richarlison, who was unable to control his finish and skewed over.
Soon after, Everton went back to front in a jiffy, Digne again popping up high on the left. His delivery on this occasion was fractionally out of reach of Seamus Coleman, bombing on and now the furthest man forward in royal blue.
Having five strung across the back also did a good deal to counter City’s ploy of making the pitch as wide as possible, a feat achieved by stationing widemen Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez tight to their respective touchlines.
With Richarlison and Bernard scampering back to help out their full-backs, Everton’s centre-back trio were left to deal with anything slung into the penalty area.
On the odd occasion Sane escaped, as he did 10 minutes before half-time, the rapid Zouma – “I have never seen a faster footballer, he zooms,” Pat Nevin once observed – bolted across to tackle.
The plan only came off its hinges when Everton allowed City the sniff of an opportunity midway through the opening half.
City had scored 30 goals in eight home matches before this encounter. Given an invitation to wreak havoc, they rarely decline.
Mina’s pass out of defence was loose but that was all it took. In two express, forward passes City had freed Jesus in the box. His low shot left Jordan Pickford with no chance.