Last Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Manchester City had Goodison Park bouncing.
Although the fans’ hopes were high it is fair to say that many, including myself, were biting their nails at the prospect of the Citizens marching into Merseyside. However, a resilient performance from the Toffees ensured that they head to the Etihad with every chance of securing a place at Wembley.
There is no doubt that the trip to Manchester will be tough. City have only failed to win one of their last 11 matches at home and will field a strong side, ready to overturn the deficit. That said, if Martinez’s men play with the same confidence and composure as they did last week then the dream we have begun to dream could well become a reality.
Despite Manuel Pellegrini’s side dominating the stats with 53% possession and 18 shots to our eight, Everton were by far the superior side. I have never seen Romelu Lukaku look so goal hungry as in the past few matches and he bullied an experienced City back-line. In fact, the Chilean boss was forced to haul Eliaquim Mangala off at half-time as he struggled to cope with the Belgian.
The back-four’s organisation was impeccable. John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori, who has impressed a lot since his arrival in the summer, were commanding figures. However, what pleased me the most was our midfield. The attack minded Ross Barkley made countless bombarding runs forward, even in the dying moments, spearheading attacking moves; Gerard Deulofeu put countless delicious balls into the box and wound up defenders with his trickery, while Gareth Barry and Muhamed Besic, who in my opinion deserves more game-time, made tackle after tackle in the centre of the park, refusing to let Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure through without a scrap.
After the match Martinez branded Barry “one of the best English players ever” and Besic, “a contagious footballer”. Although these tags may be a little far-fetched, especially the former, without the bulldoggish nature of the duo Everton would not have left the pitch with the win.
How Martinez approaches the second-leg will be interesting to see. The temptation will be to sit back and absorb City’s pressure. That is a risky strategy to play. If Martinez does indeed go for that system I think we will be outplayed. The likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne can unlock a defence in a second, no matter how crowded the box may be. Furthermore, strikers such as Aguero and Wilfried Bony need no second chances to bag goals.
On the contrary, playing attacking football and going for another win may leave the defence exposed. However impressive Barry and Besic are they would struggle with some of City’s quicker players having a free run at them.
The big problem that Everton face is the fact that City have an away goal to their advantage. Although this doesn’t come into play until after extra-time, it means we’ll probably have to score because City have scored in their last 26 home matches. Martinez must find the balance between limiting the damage the Citizens can do going forward and making sure that the Toffees are not overtly defensively-minded.
So, can Everton make it into the Capital One Cup final? Yes, definitely. Can we already start drawing our conclusions? Definitely not.