Manchester City sent out an opening-weekend warning to all of their title rivals, dismantling Willie Kirk’s new-look Everton side at Goodison Park. Summer signings Vicky Losada and ‘Bunny’ Shaw scored either side of Janine Beckie’s low drive to give the visitors a three-goal lead at half time. Steph Houghton converted a trademark free kick midway through the second period. The Toffees ploughed on bravely until the final whistle trying to get a consolation strike on the board, but it just wouldn’t happen for them…
Everton 0-4 Manchester City
“It was a really efficient and professional performance. We were put under pressure in different spells. We managed the first part of the game really well and we scored some exceptional goals with real quality. When you’ve come away to a tough ground in Everton – a team who put us under some real pressure – you have to say: the girls were excellent.”Gareth Taylor, Manager, Manchester City, via mancity.com 4/9/2021
Just shy of 6,000 spectators were in attendance to see if Everton could finally get something out of a Manchester City side that had drawn 1-1 with Real Madrid during the week. It’s been slimmer than slim pickings over the years for the blue half of Merseyside in this fixture.
Manager Kirk set his side up in a 3-5-2 and gave WSL debuts to Nathalie Björn and Anna Anvegård and Aurora Galli. Former West Ham midfielder Kenza Dali made her first appearance in royal blue and forward Toni Duggan returned to action for the Toffees for the first time since 2013.
With Chloe Kelly still not available, Gareth Taylor ‘cunningly’ brought in new signing Hayley Raso to start against her former club on the right wing instead.
Shaw and Losada made their league debuts; as did French back-up keeper Karima Benameur Taieb, who has been at the club since 2019 but always had Ellie Roebuck or Karen Bardsley ahead of her in the pecking order – both were unavailable.
The opening exchanges promised a lively end-to-end encounter from two teams that were, refreshingly, both attired in their home kits. Dali got an early sight of the City goal but scuffed her effort wide.
Janine Beckie cut in from the left on ten minutes and drilled her shot straight at Sandy MacIver. Moments later the Canadian fired over the cross bar. Caroline Weir didn’t fare much better latching on to Losada’s through ball but failing to test the keeper.
Raso got the first meaningful shot on target in the 13th minute, racing down the right wing to collect Alex Greenwood’s pinpoint diagonal, beating her marker and going for a cheeky chip that MacIver did well to tip over.
Everton continued to show some attacking ambition. In the 18th minute a corner from the left was only cleared as far as Dali on the edge of the penalty box, but she couldn’t keep her volley down.
Anvegård then got on to an uncharacteristically loose ball from Losada, spun towards the edge of the 18-yard area but couldn’t but couldn’t squeeze her shot past Benameur who saved low to her right.
City charged forward once more. Losada picked up the ball 25-yards out, had time to pick a spot, but again couldn’t hit the target.
The Spaniard wasn’t about to let another opportunity go by. City were getting plenty of joy down the left with Everton still trying to get their heads around the wingback / centre back connection.
In the 26th minute Greenwood and Stokes combined to get Beckie on the ball. The winger shaped to cross from the touchline but then played a wonderful reverse pass that sent Caroline Weir in behind the Everton defence. The Scot’s cross was charged down by MacIver but the ball broke to Losada, arriving in the penalty area, who took a moment before rifling her shot in off the left-hand post.
Ten minutes later it was two. Greenwood won a 50/50 with Duggan in midfield and sent Beckie on her way again. This time Beckie went infield, cruised past Björn, realised no one else was going to close her down and virtually passed the ball low into the keeper’s bottom right-hand corner from 20-yards.
The hosts were suddenly reeling. Two minutes later Raso found herself on the left, burst past two defenders and crossed for Shaw to knock in untracked for a three goal lead before half-time.
Willie Kirk openly conceded that his tactical approach hadn’t worked and made substitutions at the break. Winger Claire Emslie and new signing Hanna Bennison came into the fray for Megan Finnigan and Kenza Dali – the shape was adjusted to a 4-4-2 with Bennison making it a diamond midfield.
Emslie looked to make an immediate impact, sending Dan Turner to the by-line and watching frustrated as the left-back’s cross grazed the top of the cross bar.
Turner got a better look at the City goal from a free-kick on the edge of the ‘D’ in the 54th minute; found the accuracy but not the power to beat Benameur low to her right.
City weathered the early second half pressure and then started to make chances again.
Beckie’s deflected effort from distance was picked up by MacIver, but the Everton stopper could only watch as the Canadian crashed a shot off the cross bar after more good approach play with Weir and Shaw down the left.
MacIver was reduced to a spectator again for City’s fourth goal in the 66th minute. Moments after coming on to the pitch, substitute Ellen White was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. City captain Steph Houghton stepped forward and unleashed an unstoppable free-kick that whisked into the keeper’s top right-hand corner.
To their credit, the Toffees continued to look for a consolation goal to send their fans home with something. With two minutes remaining, Emslie drove a right wing corner to the back post but Rikke Sevecke just couldn’t force the ball in. Benameur gathered to protect her clean sheet and come away with a very decent WSL debut.
Gareth Taylor’s side had a slowish start to last season and it probably cost them the championship.
They look in no mood to repeat that narrative this year and sent a clear message out to the rest of the league that they are bang-ready for a title push. It was brutal at times. They found a weak seam in the Everton back line and just bludgeoned it over and over until it gave way.
For Everton, they can at least console themselves that there are 21 more matches to put this one behind them. There are good players at the club, but they have a woeful record against all the league’s title contenders.
Even with the new crop of players bedded in, they completely lost their way after City’s first goal – looking ‘punch-drunk’ ten minutes before the interval.
If they are going to stick with the 3-5-2, they need to figure out quickly how to play it and prevent opponents just pulling them to pieces behind the wingbacks – really quickly in fact, they face Chelsea at Kingsmeadow next weekend.
If a week’s work on the training ground can’t fix the issues, perhaps they should head back to basics: two banks of four, hit on the break where they can and prevent another match getting away from them by half-time…