Manchester City’s weekend clash with Everton brings up an interesting comparison between the two combatants. For many years, David Moyes’ Toffees were the side rated as the best of the rest – the ones most likely to break the Champions League cartel and the only team in recent years to push one of the regular top four down the table.
But after a mediocre first half of the season, punctuated by staggering injury problems, Everton’s days as the Premier League’s party-crashers appear to be over for now and Roberto Mancini’s City are out to replace them at the top-end of the table. Both City and Everton can boast squads of high calibre, but injuries have pushed Moyes’ resources to the limit this season and the Scot is being further tested by the loss of Joseph Yobo and Yakubu to the Africa Cup of Nations, although Mancini has to do without Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor for a while also. Just as Everton’s injury crisis shows signs of easing, with Phil Jagielka, Mikel Arteta and Victor Anichebe all back training, but even when injuries and international commitments are taken into account, there is no great disparity between the two squads’ talent. Despite going into the fixture with doubts over a number of players and a couple of long-term absentees, City perhaps have the edge when it comes to quality, but it could be argued either way.
The jury is out when the two managers are compared as Mancini remains an unknown quantity in English football, but the Italian’s impressive CV hints at great things to come. Moyes, however, possesses a strong set of references himself as he rescued Everton from the abyss and delivered a top-seven finish in his first full season on Merseyside. In his near-eight year spell at Goodison Park, the ex-Preston boss has forged a team with an iron will that has been needed on numerous occasions, as not only injuries but also humiliating results, big-name player departures and financial constraints have threatened to upset the balance on the blue half of Merseyside. While Mancini must go about tweaking his team on the field, it is away from the pitch that the greatest work needs to be done. Mark Hughes acknowledged how difficult establishing a rapport between the players would be given the continual influx of new signings, and now Mancini is tasked with doing just that. Everton have the advantage when it comes to team spirit at the moment, but as the chaos around the City of Manchester Stadium abides, the Citizens’ own brand of unity will come through.
It was Everton’s fighting spirit that helped the Toffees become one of only eight English sides to make the Champions League with a fourth-place finish in 2004/05. The less said about Everton’s experiences in Europe’s top competition the better as a side in flux were eliminated by probably the toughest opponent they could have received, Spanish side Villarreal, who went on to reach the semi-finals. Should City grab fourth or higher this season, they will be much better equipped than Everton were to progress through the rounds and into the latter stages, but there is much work to be done before then. If it is City who nab the final Champions League place from the clutch of contenders, the European experience of both Mancini and a host of their players could be enough to guide the Sky Blues to relative success in the competition.
The most glaring difference between the clubs obviously comes in the bank balances propping up their respective aspirations. City’s resources dwarf not only Everton’s, but nearly every other club in the world. However, Moyes has shown numerous times he can excel without the riches other managers have to call upon and has overseen the smashing of Everton’s transfer record on four occasions in his time with the Merseysiders, so pleading poverty in Everton’s case is a little misleading. Nevertheless, Everton remain the perfect example that it is not money but hard work and stability that provides the basis for success. As Everton fight to get their season back on track and hope for a late run at Europa League qualification, City have higher aims in mind. They are determined to become the first team since the Toffees to disrupt the harmony at the top of the table but are locked in a dogfight with Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur. The game on Saturday will go some way to clarifying exactly where each team stands this season.