Manchester City v Everton
Saturday’s evening kickoff in the English Premier League sees Manchester City play hosts to Everton at the Etihad Stadium, looking to maintain the momentum that has got them back within six points of table toppers, Chelsea.
City’s suffered a stuttering six-game run a month ago that began with them relinquishing in 2-0 lead to draw in Moscow, and ended with them somewhat fortunate to grab a point when their trip to Queens Park Rangers ended in the same scoreline. In between, defeat at West Ham in the league followed by home 2-1 losses to Newcastle in the League Cup and to CSKA in the Champions League took the gloss off the bragging righst they gained by beating neighbours United in the local derby. An unconvincing 2-1 home win over Swansea helped steady the ship, and since then it has pretty much been the Sergio Aguero show that has helped them to four wins on the bounce. His dramatic hat-trick against Bayern Munich, including a match-turning brace in the last five minutes, proved his quality against world-class opposition, while against Southampton last Sunday he turned provider as he supplied a hat-trick of assists in their emphatic 3-0 win at St Mary’s. Another brace of slickly-finished goals in the 4-1 romp at Sunderland on Wednesday took his league tally to 14 goals in 14 games, to go with the five he has scored in Europe. In the absence of the injured Edin Dzeko, and with and with Stevan Jovetic still not quite looking like the answer to City’s problems, Aguero’s form will remain key to City’s hopes this season. Dzeko, along with Aleksander Kolarov, might be ready to make a return from their calf injuries, giving Pellegrino the chance to rest Jovetic. Vincent Kompany limped off with a hamstring problem at Southampton and did not make the squad at Sunderland, and with one eye on the vital Champions League qualifier in Rome next week, Manuel Pellegrini might well give his skipper extra time to recover for that crucial game. He is likely to bring back Eliaquim Mangala, however, who was suspended for the Sunderland game , but will probably replace Dedryck Boyata in defence.
After a shaky start to the season, Everton have recovered nicely into midtable safety, and their defeat at Tottenham last weekend remains their only loss in the last ten competitive games. They have emerged as comfortable winners from a tricky-looking Europa League group, and with the winners of that competition likely to go straight into next season’s Champions League, it would appear that Roberto Martinez has accepted that the European competition offers his side a far better chance of qualifying for the elite tournament than breaking into the top four of the Premier League. That said, Martinez will still be demanding more from his players than they showed in a lacklustre 1-1 draw with a hard-working Hull City side on Wednesday, and they will certainly have to improve on that performance if they are to trouble the league champions. On the plus side, Romelu Lukaku appears to have found his shooting boots again, and fellow Belgian, Kevin Mirallas, looks to be getting back to his slippery best. Martinez will be boosted by the news that Arouna Kone and Bryan Oviedo may be close to full fitness, but Steven Naismith and James McCarthy (both with hamstring issues) are unlikely to play. At the back, Antolin Alcaraz is available again after missing six games in all competitions with a shoulder problem.