There is such confidence running through this Manchester City team currently that even at the back-end of a game in which they had failed to overly test the opposition via goalscoring chances, they still found a way to get the job done.
This latest job was progression into the semi finals of the FA Cup. Despite seeing much of the ball but without the creation of as many opportunities as they would have hoped against Everton, two late goals from Ilkay Gundogan and substitute Kevin De Bruyne cleared City’s passage to Wembley without the need of extra time.
Story of the game
Carlo Ancelotti reflected ahead of this match that his Everton side had competed for 60 minutes in the last meeting between these two teams, in the Premier League last month, before City took the game away from their Merseyside hosts and won 3-1.
This time, Everton competed - just about - for 80 minutes but still City mustered enough at the last to clinch their passage into the semi finals.
Given both sides were starting with reserve goalkeepers - Zack Steffen for City and Joao Virginia for the home side - neither attack particularly troubled either ‘keeper during the first half. It was the visitors who set their stall out early on but, apart from a routine save from Raheem Sterling, Everton’s third-choice goalkeeper was left to ease himself into the game.
Pep Guardiola’s side were purring at times, advancing into promising positions with ease but not breaching the Everton defence. Concentration and endurance were the watchwords for Ancelotti’s defence, which was compact with five at the back, including Yerry Mina instead of Michael Keane, and two deep protectors just ahead.
Mason Holgate almost stepped out of line when he went to nibble at the feet of Phil Foden rather forcefully in the penalty area, but thought better of it and pulled out just in time. Everton were struggling to get out from their low block but there were signs that Ancelotti’s plan of thwarting City was working as his side grew in confidence.
A minute before the opening half was out, Mina flicked on a corner-kick which Oleksandr Zinchenko cleared off the goal-line. Had that gone in then the Everton manager might just have applauded a perfectly well-engineered first half.
Everton’s short-circuiting of City continued after the interval as they forced the visitors to attack into wide areas and, without a striker in the middle, crosses didn’t really lead to any problems and so City were left simply passing in a loop.
Guardiola had made six changes for this game and it was one of those, Sterling, who missed City’s two clearest chances at the start of the second half. He hooked a volley over the crossbar and then after being teed-up by Fernandinho, who had advanced into the Everton area, the England attacker side-footed his effort which Virginia could push wide.
That said, the home side did have Richarlison whose resourcefulness was apparent whenever the ball found its way to his feet. He directed a half-volley just wide from the edge of the box. Fernandinho offered his appreciation of his compatriot’s danger by muscling him off the ball and collecting a caution, City’s first of the evening.
Guardiola sought to alter the game by introducing Riyad Mahrez and moving Foden back into midfield. It almost reaped an immediate reward. From his new berth in the inside-right channel, he fizzed a shot just wide.
The City manager then turned to De Bruyne and it was he who set the visitors’s victory in motion. Aymeric Laporte carried the ball forward from the back and passed to the new arrival, who unleashed a shot that Virginia did well to tip onto the bar. But it presented Gundogan with an opportunity to head into the unguarded goal.
With the lead established so late on, and given City’s record, it was now clear who the winner of this hard-fought tie would be. Just as the clock ticked into the 90th minute Rodri released De Bruyne with a lovely weighted ball over the Everton defence. The Belgian’s emphatic shot this time beat Virginia and saw City through.