Not too long ago Everton were able to boast a decent record against Manchester City. They were never reliable enough to be regarded as a bogey team but they caused a few problems during Roberto Mancini’s time at the Etihad Stadium and as recently as Pep Guardiola’s first season in England they were responsible for a 4-0 victory at Goodison that still stands as the manager’s biggest and most inexplicable Premier League defeat.
Everton were not quite as potent a force once Ronald Koeman and Romelu Lukaku had departed, yet a Wayne Rooney goal was still enough to claim a draw at the Etihad Stadium at the start of City’s record‑breaking 2017-18 title campaign. That was only a little over two years ago, yet so much has happened in Manchester and Merseyside since that it seems much longer. While City were winning back-to-back titles Everton had to endure a spell under Sam Allardyce, a low point in the eyes of most fans from which they are still struggling to recover. The past three meetings between the clubs have all gone City’s way and, given the manner in which Everton lost at home against Sheffield United last week, there can be little enthusiasm for the visit of a side that could easily have reached double figures against Watford on the same day.
While practically any new manager would have been welcomed as an antidote to Allardyce’s unappealing and unnecessary functionalism, not everyone around Goodison viewed Marco Silva as the swashbuckling savior the club were keen to promote. It was noted at the time of his appointment that after the initial periods of success at Hull and Watford that first got him noticed there was a leveling-off in terms of results. Here was a bright young manager who could point out a few things a club might have been doing badly or wrong, but one who did not necessarily have the answers when it came to sustaining improvement or driving a club forward.
Those first impressions have not exactly been dispelled by Silva’s first year and a bit on Merseyside. To put it as politely as possible Everton have been wildly inconsistent. Indeed many would argue there has been no discernible initial improvement of any note apart from a giddy 4-0 win against Manchester United towards the end of last season when Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team were on the slide. In six matches this season they have already been beaten three times and two of those defeats were at the hands of newly promoted sides.
Yes, it is fair to point out that City, too, were beaten at Norwich a couple of weeks ago but, unlike Silva, Guardiola does not currently find himself among the bookies’ favorites to lose his job. Despite losing against Daniel Farke’s newcomers, despite conceding a five-point advantage to Liverpool at this early stage, City are still chugging along quite sweetly, averaging four goals a game. No one else is doing that and, even when Guardiola changes the team for midweek cup games, City still have enough core strength for 3-0 wins away against decent opponents in Shakhtar Donetsk and Preston North End.
Granted not everyone can boast City’s wealth of riches, with Guardiola giving Kevin De Bruyne a rest one week and Raheem Sterling the next. Yet Everton were not inactive in the transfer market over the summer and a club with a stated ambition of breaking into the European elite must be disappointed with a return of five goals in six matches. Only Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Watford have scored fewer and on Saturday a side averaging less than a goal a game has to face opponents who were five goals up after 18 minutes in their last league outing.
To an extent Everton have been unlucky with injuries. André Gomes has been out with a rib complaint while little has been seen of the £25m signing Jean-Philippe Gbamin. Yet to a greater extent it is still hard to work out how Silva wants his side to play. From a defensive point of view it is not clear that Idrissa Gueye has been satisfactorily replaced and far from certain that Yerry Mina is an ideal partner for Michael Keane, while up front there is still no obvious strategy despite a confusing selection of somewhat similar players.
Koeman complained that Everton needed to sign another 25-goal-a-season player when they lost Lukaku and, while there are not that many around – still fewer within Everton’s price range – the gap has not been filled. Koeman’s own idea was Olivier Giroud, who might not have reproduced Lukaku’s figures but would have scored a few and helped to bring others into the game.
Everton are still waiting for someone to perform that function. Richarlison is not doing it, at least not consistently, Moise Kean has yet to live up to his publicity and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is in and out of the team. The lack of clarity in Everton’s forward thinking was amply demonstrated last weekend when chasing the game against Sheffield United. Silva kept raiding his supply of attacking nearly men to try to come up with an equalizer so that in the end he had Alex Iwobi, Cenk Tosun and Theo Walcott on the pitch in addition to Richarlison, Kean and Gylfi Sigurdsson, yet this profusion of would-be matchwinners had the predictable result of leaving the midfield and defense exposed so that it was John Lundstram and Lys Mousset who came up with an almost casual clinching goal for the visitors.
All of which means that Silva is under pressure, as they say, with the season barely a month old and another international break looming. While he could probably do without meeting City at this precise moment, it might be harsh for anyone to jump to kneejerk conclusions against opponents capable of dismantling most teams in Europe. The majority of managers would be out of a job were their input to be solely assessed on results against the champions but Silva needs an upturn from somewhere, and soon.