The unenviable task of preventing Manchester City from completing a 17th straight victory in all competitions falls to Everton when the sides meet at Goodison Park on Wednesday. Pep Guardiola’s team beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 on Saturday to go seven points clear at the top of the Premier League.
This games against Everton was due to take place in late December only for a coronavirus outbreak within the City squad to force the postponement of the fixture at the eleventh hour. Thus this is City’s game in hand and should they get the better of Everton they will create a 10 point buffer to second-placed Manchester United.
What angered the Everton hierarchy most about the late cancellation of December’s meeting was that the Merseyside club were in good form at the time - five games without loss in the league - and fancied their chances against a City team that were far from the blistering best which they have shown in recent weeks.
Everton’s fortunes have somewhat changed recently too. Sunday’s home defeat to Fulham was further confirmation that Carlo Ancelotti’s side lack the consistency of performance and result to challenge for the top four. Their realistic aim is to claim a European spot but that still requires work.
Every promising win that Everton manage to achieve at the moment - Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, and Tottenham - seem to be followed by a dispiriting and disappointing loss - Newcastle United, West Ham United, and Fulham.
Ancelotti’s side are currently seventh but such is the congested nature of that area of the table that things can change rather quickly. Thus a week containing a home match against City and then a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool on Saturday is big for the Everton players. An opportunity to make up for lost ground and boost moral arises.
It is at home, though, that Everton have had particular problems of late. They have picked up just one point from their four league games at Goodison in 2021. City will not offer their hosts much respite as they try for a 24th consecutive game without loss.
Ancelotti confirmed that Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be absent for this game but said that the striker should be able to return at the weekend. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is also in line to return should he pass a late fitness test having trained on Monday.
James Rodriguez is fit to play despite going off with a knock against Fulham while Allan is also in contention for a first start since December. Alex Iwobi and Michael Keane will also be hopeful of recalls to the first XI for the visit of City, with the latter's potential return seeing Ben Godfrey shifted out wide.
The joy of Ilkay Gundogan's brace against Tottenham soon died down as he was forced off with a groin problem in the dying embers of the match, and this game may come too soon for him. This could see Phil Foden move into the midfield three, allowing Riyad Mahrez to return to the flanks as Gabriel Jesus starts through the middle.
Sergio Aguero made the bench at the weekend but will not be thrust straight into the first XI as he eases his way back, and while Kevin De Bruyne and Nathan Ake remain sidelined, Ruben Dias will return to the starting lineup after recovering from a fever.
Everton: Pickford; Godfrey, Keane, Holgate, Digne; Doucoure, Davies; Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison; King.
Man City: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Stones, Cancelo; Rodri, Silva, Foden; Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling
When & where to watch
The game will be available to watch on Amazon Prime with Simon Thomas leading the coverage alongside pundits Lee Dixon, Michael Owen, and the former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe. Commentary will be provided by Peter Drury and Ally McCoist.
All of the in-game and post-match coverage and analysis will also be available on Vavel UK.