Hello and welcome to the League Cup Semi Final first leg where City travel to Goodison Park to face Everton. This is one of City’s 4 chances at silverware this year and so far it has been a very enjoyable ride indeed.
Thanks for joining us for our special League Cup edition of Inside the Opposition. What have been your highlights of Everton’s run to the Semi Finals?
That would have to be the 2-0 win away to Middlesbrough. We haven’t made light work of this cup run, despite some easy draws – going two down to Barnsley was a lowlight, but falling behind away to Reading and home to Norwich was none-too-impressive either – but the early stages of this competition were marked by our resilience. Recovering from a two-goal deficit at Oakwell was a sign of things to come, as we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Why we were there in the first place is beyond me. The win at the Riverside was the perfect tonic for all the previous tension, and against an excellent side (I don’t need to tell you how tough Boro can be) with an exceptional home record. It was all set up to be a banana skin, but Everton dealt with the occasion professionally, and kept a clean sheet to boot. Oh, how sweet they are.
Romelu Lukaku has been in some pretty fearsome form recently. Just how good is he? And who else should we be keeping an eye on tomorrow?
He’s just brilliant. Strength, speed, an eye for goal we haven’t seen round these parts for a couple of decades…and he’s only 22. What really makes Lukaku stand out though is the fact he is an intelligent footballer, a thinker. It’s the reason David Silva stood out as the best player in the Premier League, and Mesut Özil does now – not that Silva can’t reclaim that mantle at some point. If he deigns to continue carrying Everton up the table rather than chasing glory, we’ll be vastly better off for it. It’s not an understatement to say that without his contributions we’d be battling with mid-table dross like Norwich, Bournemouth and Chelsea, rather than mid-table dross like Stoke, Watford and Liverpool. Alright, it’s not all great. But Lukaku is undoubtedly our player of the season. Considering you talent going forward, a lot of our players will be looking over their shoulders trying to keep you at bay, but Gerard Deulofeu doesn’t work that way, and that’s why you’ll have to keep a very close eye on him. His speed on and off the ball will make life very difficult for Kolarov – if it’s the Serb who starts this one – and the youngster will be a constant outlet on the wing.
Is John Stones actually good? The tabloids tell me he is but I’ve never been so sure watching him. Of course I suppose there’s always the possibility that he’s wasted in another classic Roberto Martinez defence…
Yes, he is. He’s still a Rolls-Royce, and he’s still at the heart of the backline of England’s next-next golden generation. But since Everton lost Phil Jagielka to injury, Stones has been poor. It’s not a lack of quality, as he has that in buckets. It’s merely a lack of experience. Ramiro Funes Mori, himself only 24 and new to Premier League football, is not suitable foil. Stones has made some basic errors and allowed smarter forwards to get the better of him. It will be Funes Mori who is tasked with keeping an eye on fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero, not Stones. Simply put, Stones will be back to his brilliant best once he has Baines to his left and Jagielka to his right. Luckily for you, our captain won’t be fit for this one, and as you alluded to Roberto Martinez defences are Scrooge-like; unfortunately for us, that’s Scrooge after he’s been visited by the three spirits rather than before.
Should we be expecting a full strength Everton team or will the busy Premier League/FA Cup schedule take precedence?
With an FA Cup tie at home to Dagenham and Redbridge on the horizon, there will be no need to rest players for this tie – not that Roberto Martinez ever planned to. Ending the well-documented barren streak and picking up silverware is his main aim with plans to gatecrash the top four going awry, and this competition provides the best opportunity to do so. It will, however, be the chance for a couple of players who have been on the periphery to get involved. Joel Robles will be in goal, and you’ll hear plenty of relieved cheers when his name is announced at Goodison tomorrow. Mohamed Besic has been excellent whenever he has appeared and could claim a starting berth, and Kevin Mirallas will either come in from the wilderness now or never.
And last but not least, what do you think the score will be? Everton or City to go through over two legs?
You should be aware that you’re taking on an Everton side very much at a crossroads here. Roberto Martinez has been responsible for both magic and madness in his short (long, perhaps, in today’s context) stint at the club. A lot of fans have lost faith with a man who tries to tell them we showed phenomenal character when conceding four at home against Stoke, or dogmatically picking the same underperforming players in the same formation. Yet there is a lingering belief amongst some that this bright young manager and his bright young squad can do great things. For the Spaniard’s sake that has to come sooner rather than later, or the Goodison atmosphere will become poisonous, fast.
I would love to say Everton will win this, but it’s very tough to see it. City have been shaky away from home recently, though a timely win at Watford put paid to that, so our hopes depend on this first leg at Goodison Park. There will be goals, and when it boils down to a shooting match it’s hard not to back the big guns. No matter what happens, it’s vital that the winner of this tie goes on and wins the cup. I doubt many want to see Stoke prevails, and we’ll all be keen to deny our neighbours any bragging rights. I for one have always been fond of Manchester City – there we both were, dreaming of usurping our overbearing and hugely cringeworthy red rivals, and you’ve done it, with the backing that we apparently came close to getting ourselves. One day we’ll join you on that plateau hopefully, but for now we really need this one. Up the (Royal) Blues.
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Written by Alex Timperley