Everton v Manchester City
Thursday January 7, 7am
Something strange is happening at Everton this term, whereby so many of their players are having spectacular campaigns – most notable John Stones, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku – yet they are nine points off the Champions League pace in 11th place.
A second successive season of Premier League underperformance will be a lot easier to tolerate if it is accompanied by cup glory. They have never won this competition and last reached the final 32 years ago, but boss Roberto Martinez lifted the FA Cup with Wigan in 2013, and did so at Man City’s expense.
The Toffees will be without five men for this first leg, though James McCarthy is the only one whose absence is a significant blow. Bryan Oviedo, Tyias Browning, Tony Hibbert and Steven Pienaar have been sidelined for longer and so they are acclimatised to coping without those.
After just five wins in 11, Man City’s comeback victory at Watford in which they struck twice in the closing nine minutes to avoid falling six points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal felt like a potentially decisive moment in their campaign, one which it is vital that they build on at Goodison Park.
Yet while that was the Citizens’ first top-flight triumph on their travels in seven, with the previous six games yielding three points, their away cup form has been impressive throughout 2015/16. They have won three out of four such ties, scoring nine times in the process, and only slipping up against Champions League finalists Juventus.
David Silva lasting 90 minutes at Vicarage Road on Saturday and Sergio Aguero surviving 86 suggests that they are over the worst of their injury crisis. However, the continued unavailability of Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri and expected absence of Fabian Delph and Wilfried Bony shows that all is far from perfect.
This used to be the scariest fixture on the calendar for Man City as they suffered nine defeats in a dozen meetings between January 2008 and March 2013.
Though the predicament threatened to escalate when Everton hired their aforementioned 2013 FA Cup final scourge Martinez that summer, the trend has been inverted dramatically since, with Manuel Pellegrini winning four and drawing the other of his five clashes with the Spaniard.
It is on Merseyside that the transformation is most marked. After one win in 15 visits to the blue part of town and four losses in a row, the Chilean has collected seven points from a possible nine at Goodison.
His side prevailed 2-0 there in August – their best result at the stadium in 23 years – in what was their hosts’ sole reverse in their opening ten encounters of the season in all competitions, so 2.08 looks a delicious price on them enjoying a third success in four at the famous ground.
Since the start of October, Everton have faced Premier League opponents 14 times and their only three victories came against relegation-zone occupants Sunderland, Aston Villa and Newcastle.
Additionally, Martinez’s men lost the home leg of the one Capital One Cup semi-final that they contested this century, whereas Man City have been involved in three this decade alone and won the first leg in two of those.