City reach Wembley final after thrilling Everton encounter

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Man City 3-1 Everton – www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Wednesday night’s match between Manchester City and Everton was always likely to produce goals. Both teams attack, both teams play good football and both Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Martinez have at times been criticized for neglecting the importance of defending. Such cavalier approaches to the game from these sides culminated in a hugely entertaining contest, which City won 3-1, 4-3 on aggregate. Ross Barkley gave Everton a two goal advantage early on with a firm strike, before Fernandinho’s deflected shot gave the hosts hope. Positive changes paid off for Pellegrini in the second half as substitute Kevin De Bruyne netted a fortuitous leveller, before the impressive Sergio Aguero scored to take City to a second League Cup final in two years.

The home side showed their intentions early on and looked to play on the front foot and attack through the middle of the pitch, with Sterling and Silva operating narrowly. This meant they relied on Gael Clichy to provide width on the left flank, and the Frenchman’s attacking runs left them vulnerable on occasion. Gerard Deulefeu took advantage with a speedy counter-attacking run down the right, but the La Masia graduate could not get the ball out of his feet when he wanted to lay the ball off.

City were putting Everton under a lot of pressure and the visitors needed to push out more. The Toffees missed the aggression and defensive qualities of Muhamed Besic, with Tom Cleverley’s positioning seeming questionable.

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Ross Barkley – www.express.co.uk

Martinez’s men still posed a threat on the counter, as Lukaku just missed Ross Barkley’s centre from the right flank. It was Barkley who opened the deadlock on 18 minutes. The energetic midfielder went on a mazy run through City’s midfield, which provided no cohesive pressure on the ball. Barkley took advantage of their defensive frailties with a superb low drive into the bottom corner.

Manchester City responded quickly though and equalized six minutes later. Fernandinho’s shot cannoned off Leighton Baines, looping beyond Joel Robles and into the net. That lifted the home fans as the game became an entertaining, end-to-end cup tie.

Barkley was posing a threat and a tidy through ball from Deulefeu allowed him to cross for Lukaku, but Martin Demichelis was there to clear. Sergio Aguero provided City’s greatest goal threat in the first half and the Argentine hit the post with his long range strike, before Robles reacted quickly to deny Sterling from close range.

At half-time, Fabian Delph came off to make way for Jesus Navas. For a moment, it looked as though this could leave City too open at the back, Fernandinho being their only midfielder with an eye for his defensive responsibility. Everton exploited the gaps early in the second half with another breakaway through Barkley, before Caballero got down well to save Deulefeu’s low strike.

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Jesus Navas – www.skysports.com

The decision to introduce Navas ultimately paid off for Pellegrini, as the winger made a key impact and beat left-back Leighton Baines for fun. The Spaniard drilled a cross in from the right but Aguero mishit his shot from inside the box. Man City caused another scare when Pablo Zabaleta’s cross from deep was headed onto the post by David Silva. Sterling then shaped to shoot in a penalty box scramble, but was denied by Cleverley’s block.

The introduction of James McCarthy on 60 minutes seemed to help Everton keep hold of the ball and quieten the game down, and it looked as though they might maintain their lead. The problem with this Toffees side, however, is that they have to be in possession to look defensively secure, and they are too open when opposing teams attack them. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne came on for the ineffective Yaya Toure and made a telling impact.

Sterling had improved after a poor first half and assisted De Bruyne, pulling the ball back for the Belgian to ram it home. Replays show that the ball had gone over the byline before Sterling crossed the ball, but having not been awarded a vital late penalty in a recent league match against Everton, he and his team will take this slice of fortune.

City were starting to get on top after their second goal and De Bruyne played a part in the third. The former Wolfsburg man dinked the ball into the box from the right and Aguero glanced his header into the far corner. Sadly for De Bruyne, his evening ended on a sour note as he picked up an injury in the latter stages, which hands City a blow for the forthcoming weeks.

Everton looked all over the place and could not get a grip on the game. John Stones had been played out of position at right-back and was vulnerable every time City attacked down the left. In the final stages, Everton had a few chances to cross the ball but their deliveries were poor, leaving Lukaku frustrated.

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Roberto Martinez – www.telegraph.co.uk

The final whistle blew to end Everton’s hopes of a Merseyside final. The Blues looked too open at the back on Wednesday night and did not defend with enough diligence. Pound for pound, Everton have arguably a better squad than ones they have had under David Moyes’ tenure, boasting the talents of Lukaku and Deulefeu. With a degree of defensive structure and organization, Everton could, perhaps should, be very close to the top four reckoning, given how open the Premier League is. They are underachieving and Roberto Martinez must take a lot of the responsibility for that.

Victory for Manchester City guarantees them a place in the League Cup final against Liverpool on the 28th February. Pellegrini’s men looked vulnerable at the back in the first half but tightened up a notch after the interval and chased the game in the right manner. Sergio Aguero was by far the best player on the pitch and with the former Atletico Madrid man back to his best, Manchester City have a good chance of winning two trophies this season. They could win the League Cup, the Premier League title and… dare we suggest… even a third trophy? The FA Cup is within their reach too.