Everton Inspiration Exposes Hollowness of Manchester City's Title Bid

Dan WheelerContributor IMarch 16, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  Edin Dzeko of Manchester City reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park on March 16, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool's favourite sons The Beatles had a hit with a song that included the line "Money can't buy me love." On his return to his least favourite city, Roberto Mancini was again reminded that it still can't buy him a win there either.

Mancini has never won in Liverpool, whether taking his side to Anfield or, as he was here, to the other venue across Stanley Park, Goodison.

He will look back on a terrible refereeing decision that denied his side a penalty and three excellent saves from Everton's stand-in goalkeeper Jan Mucha as mitigating circumstances for City's two-nil defeat which, as far as retaining their Premier League title hopes go, sees the final nail hammered in his side's already tightly lidded coffin. 

City may have been without key players, chiefly captain Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure, who was a late withdraw from the match with a migraine. But for a squad as rich and deep as theirs, their replacements should have covered their collective loss better than they did—especially as they were playing against 10 men for the last 30 minutes after Steven Pienaar was shown his second yellow card.

So what went wrong? Pretty much everything. 

Carlos Tevez, with five goals in his last three games (including that FA Cup hat-trick), never carried that confidence to the Everton defence. Edin Dzeko started in petulant fashion and never improved. When they did break through, Mucha was there to deny them.

City had plenty of huff and puff and lots of possession, particularly once Pienaar had gone but produced very little. For a side who have no room for error in their pursuit of Manchester United, City's lack of punch and persistence was bizarre. Even David Silva's box of tricks was empty.

They should have at least had a chance to level the game five minutes from time after Leon Osman's 25-yard bullet had given Everton the lead on 32 minutes. Marouane Felliani's handball from a Tevez shot was three yards inside the penalty area yet the referee, Lee Probert, mystifying gave a free kick a yard outside the box. That free kick went straight into the wall rather limply. It summed up City's afternoon. 

For Everton, it was a case of reminding themselves what a difference a week can make.

Booed off in disgrace after last Saturday's shocking FA Cup defeat to Wigan, they were cheered like heroes after a display that epitomised everything that's admirable about David Moyles's philosophy: commitment, marauding full backs, robustly slick in the middle of the park and always a threat on the break—as illustrated by Nikica Jelavic's sumptuously taken second in the last minute as City were caught cold. Fifth place is theirs at the moment. On this evidence it could be for keeps.

A word too for Mucha. The Slovenian is only getting a game because Tim Howard is injured. He is out of contract at the end of the season and he did look certain to leave. His performance in this game may yet change David Moyles's mind.

That may well alter. What won't is the destination of the title. Manchester United can go 15 points clear with 10 games to go. Unless they suffer some inexplicable collapse, perhaps into a black hole, a 20th crown is theirs.

This defeat for City has merely confirmed what we've known for a while. The title was lost 10 weeks ago when City took two points from three games and United took a maximum nine.

City just have not been good enough for long enough.