Soft penalty allows Man City to close gap on Chelsea to three
A combination of Chelsea’s first loss in any competition this season and a controversial first-half penalty at the Etihad has seen Manchester City close to within three points of the Premier League leaders.
Reigning champions City are now 2/1 with Coral to retain their title, having fully capitalised on slips by Jose Mourinho’s men. For the Londoners, trips to the northeast were largely fruitless, taking one point from a possible six from visits to Sunderland and Newcastle United.
Manuel Pellegrini and co, meanwhile, recorded their sixth straight win in all competitions against Everton. In the space of a week, the deficit has more than halved from eight. City smashed both Southampton and Sunderland on the road, but this was a very different game against Roberto Martinez’s men.
Sergio Aguero’s early injury, which although at first looked innocuous soon became seriously, with the Argentina attacker leaving the pitch in tears clutching his left thigh and knee, is real cause for concern.
It is Aguero who has breathed new life into City’s campaign, especially in Europe, and now he is almost certainly going to miss out on a make or break night for Chilean coach Pellegrini in Rome this coming midweek.
This was a major sideshow to the match that followed. City and the Toffees played out a match of few chances, but Phil Jagielka’s challenge on England international colleague James Milner in the box proved to be the decisive moment.
Going away from goal and with byline mere yards away, workmanlike City midfielder Milner went down under a tackle from the Everton captain, but got straight to his feet without appealing.
Nonetheless, referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot with a quarter of the game gone and up stepped Yaya Toure to fire beyond Tim Howard from 12 yards. This decisive incident apart, the Toffees stopper was forced into a fine reaction save from Aguero replacement and Spanish youngster Jose Angel Pozo after the break.
Joe Hart, meanwhile, proved his worth with a new contract on the table at the Etihad, by producing a sublime stop to prevent Romelu Lukaku pinching a point late on. Given the Aguero injury and absence of club captain and defensive general Vincent Kompany, this was exactly what City needed.
Summer signings Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando Reges made questionably high tackles, which Marriner showed clemency over by booking both instead of reaching for red. In the former case, the official certainly could have deemed it serious foul play.
With Aguero out and evergreen Italian master Francesco Totti lying in wait for hosts Roma next time, it is vital Pellegrini gets Kompany on the pitch. Mangala is looking more and more like a £32m liability, while the slower pace of Serie A sides will such ageing Argentine defender Martin Demichelis.
From an Everton perspective, Martinez’s experiment of playing Seamus Coleman ahead of club stalwart Tony Hibbert failed. Samuel Eto’o offered little support to Lukaku in attack, though the Cameroonian veteran’s replacement Ross Barkley fared little better at the Etihad when he came on.
Coping with a European campaign of their own has certainly taken its toll on the Toffees squad, with midfield anchor James McCarthy a real miss from their engine room. Everton’s own ambitions of playing in continental competitions again has been hit by more dropped points and they are now 2/1 to repeat a top six finish.