Everton kicked off their Premier League campaign in positive fashion, defeating Mark Hughes’ Stoke City 1-0 at Goodison Park. The win was sealed thanks to a strike from the returning Wayne Rooney.
With three points and a clean sheet in the bag, Ronald Koeman led his side into continental action for a Europa League clash with Hajduk Split. Another win came there, meaning his team enter this weekend with confidence and momentum.
Those assets will be required up against a Manchester City who began their own season with a strong showing away to newly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion. Pep Guardiola’s side won 2-0 there, having had to penetrate a well-organised defensive opponent.
Everton will likely revert back to the 3-4-2-1 shape they used against Stoke following a brief flirtation with the 4-2-3-1 against Hajduk. Up against quality Premier League opposition, especially one that started the season with a striking duet of Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, the back three could be crucial.
Koeman will be without Ramiro Funes Mori, his only natural left-sided player in the back line, meaning Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams and Michael Keane will form the defensive trident. They will be supported on either side by Cuco Martina, standing in for the injured Seamus Coleman, and Leighton Baines.
Everton may choose to operate in a deep defensive block with man-to-man marking across the midfield line. City should go for a four of Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Danilo, and the Toffees’ four may look simply to stifle them.
Koeman would be wise to take inspiration from Brighton’s performance against Guardiola’s side. Despite an inferiority in technical ability, the newly promoted outfit sat deep and retained a compact shape, offering little space between the lines and man-marking.
This frustrated Manchester City for a prolonged period, and while it was eventually broken down, Everton could easily do something similar with better, more experienced Premier League individuals within their ranks.
While the primary concern will be on not conceding, however, Koeman must also find a way to open up his team’s hosts this weekend. Brighton lacked a serious counter-attacking threat without real pace up front, but the Toffees shouldn’t suffer a similar fate.
With Ross Barkley’s future up in the air, Rooney and Davy Klaassen will take up the inside forward roles and will look to occupy dangerous spaces between City’s midfield and defensive lines. They will also look to combine with Sandro Ramírez, who should be fit to start after missing the Europa League tie in midweek.
The speed and movement of the Spanish striker will be vital to linking up and hitting Guardiola’s men on the break. He must look to combine with his attacking team-mates and deny Manchester City’s defensive diamond an obvious reference point to mark.