Everton are up for a scrap alright – just ask Erling Haaland.
Manchester City ’s striker may have scored his 27th goal of a spectacular season, but the rough ride he was given by Ben Godfrey, James Tarkowski and Conor Coady suggests Frank Lampard’s men learned last season that it’s better to start fighting early than end up praying for a miracle.
The three centre-halves Lampard employed to get into Haaland’s face did what they were tasked to do and set the tone. Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana tackled everything wearing a sky blue shirt in midfield. Dominic Calvert-Lewin spent a valuable 69 minutes chasing lost causes.
And with the Merseysiders needing a spark of inspiration, Demarai Gray provided it with a sensational equaliser. It was Everton ’s only shot on target. Lampard will argue it was well worth a point.
The visitors were not so pretty in their pink away strip. But when you face a team packed with as much quality as Pep Guardiola’s champions, it makes sense to turn up for an arm wrestle rather than a beauty contest.
City go into 2023 with their hopes of a third successive title starting to fade. Guardiola threw on World Cup winner Julian Alvarez, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan for a late siege that included 11 minutes of injury-time.
Even centre-backs Manuel Akanji and John Stones joined the onslaught. But when Rodri sent a close-range header wide it was the last act.
Erling Haaland did not shy away from Everton’s roughhousing
It appeared that City were on their way when Haaland squeezed home Riyad Mahrez’s intelligent low cross after Everton had been stretched by a combination between Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish.
The Norwegian’s full-throated roar showed how much this one meant to him. It took just 12 seconds for Ben Godfrey to signal Everton’s intent when he dragged Haaland to the turf as they challenged for a high ball. It was nothing malicious, just a marker.
But City’s No 9 lost his boot and needed treatment to his ankle before resuming with a knowing glance in Godfrey’s direction. Once Haaland realised referee Andrew Madley felt he could look after himself, he duly obliged.
Twice he took Godfrey out. When he scathed down Vitaliy Mykolenko just minutes after scoring, his Viking blood still appeared to be boiling. Haaland was booked – and so was James Tarkowski for leading a posse of Evertonians looking to confront the striker.
Haaland put City in front and showed how much the goal meant to his team
Referee Madley had his card out seven times in total. The way Guardiola shook his head at some of his decisions suggested the City boss wasn’t happy.
Some teams would have folded after Haaland ended 24 minutes of one-way traffic by finding a way past Jordan Pickford ’s road block. It was Haaland’s 21st Premier League goal of the campaign; Everton’s tally at that point was a measly 12.
Stones sent a downward header skidding against the post from a De Bruyne free-kick. But City could not make their obvious dominance count with a second goal.
Everton stayed in the game in the hope that something would break their way. And it did in the 69th minute when Gray led a charge towards Ederson’s goal from deep inside his own half.