Before Manchester City’s win over Leeds United eight days ago,. Ilkay Gundogan had enjoyed a fine season but not a prolific one in front of goal.
Since then and in the course of just two Premier League games, the German has doubled his goal tally from four to eight and as a result City have moved to within six points of yet another league title.
This is one of the true beauties of Pep Guardiola’s latest City incarnation. This version is not always as fabulously spell binding to watch as some that have passed before on Guardiola’s watch.
But they remain just as monotonously reliable and ruthless and, importantly, can draw goals and inspiration from just about anybody when the moment requires it.
At Goodison Park today they beat Everton without breaking sweat. Everton were competitive for 35 minutes and then Mason Holgate missed a chance at one end, City scored twice in a minute at the other and the game was done.
Manchester City controlled proceedings as they stormed to a three-nil lead over Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday
Ilkay Gundogan opened the scoring with a brilliantly creative strike from inside the Everton box that was initially controlled with his thigh
Gundogan’s opening goal – a flick over his shoulder with his right foot – was reminiscent of the kind of thing the great Dennis Bergkamp used to do. Erling Haaland’s header a minute later was a true centre forward’s strike and, remarkably, only his third touch in the game at that point.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
EVERTON: (4-2-3-1) Pickford 6; Patterson 6, Mina 6.5, Tarkowski 6.5, Holgate 6 (Coady 54mins 6); Garner 6, Gueye 5.5 (Onana 54mins 6) ; Iwobi 5, Doucoure 6, McNeil 6.5; Calvert-Lewin 5.5 (Maupay 45mins 6.5).
SEAN DYCHE: 6
MANCHESTER CITY: (4-2-3-1) Ederson 6; Walker 7, Ruben Dias 6 (Sergio Gomez 90mins 6), Akanji 6, Laporte 6; Rodri 6.5 (Phillips 87mins 6), Gundogan 8 (Grealish 78mins 6); Mahrez 6.5, Alvarez 6, Foden 7; Haaland 6 (Silva 77mins 6).
GOALS: Gundogan 37 & 41, Haaland 38
PEP GUARDIOLA: 7
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor 6
As for Gundogan’s free-kick five minutes in to the second half, that was a football meets art moment. It seemed to take an age to arc in to the goal but still there was a sense of inevitability about it from the moment he drew his foot back to strike.
For Everton, the damage grew no greater and that may yet be important. They are only out of the bottom three by a point but their goal difference is also two better than that of Leeds, the team beneath them. So the fact there was no collapse over the last 40 minutes could serve them well in the long run.
Gundogan’s goal tally in the league, however, would make him top scorer in Sean Dyche’s Everton squad. Dwight McNeill is Everton’s top league scorer with seven goals and that says much.
Here their best forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin was reasonably dangerous in the first half but failed to reappear for the second, presumably injured. Dyche, one senses, has had just about enough of that particular problem already but his team’s approach to the game was hard to fault.
Compact across the middle of the field when City had the ball – which was often – they ran and pressed and closed opponents down. For a while it worked to the extent that City hadn’t fashioned a chance at all until the moment they scored eight minutes before half-time. But this is the point. They did score.
And then, a matter of a minute or so later, they scored again. Suddenly, Everton were staring not at the possibility of a point but respectability and damage limitation. When people talk of how hard it is to play Guardiola’s team, this is what they mean.
Everton did have an opportunity of their own just before Gundogan’s goal and they didn’t take it. That was a cause for regret as they were well in the game at that point. A goal would have turned up the dial in terms of the home support and Everton’s efforts on the field. It is always easier to summon energy when you have something tangible to cling to.
Manchester City’s Erling Haaland leapt highest in the Everton box to double his side’s lead through his 36th goal of the season
Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (green) got a hand to Haaland’s effort but was unable to keep it out
Pep Guardiola (middle) hauled off his two goalscorers in the closing stages of the Premier League encounter
As it was, Holgate could only volley the ball over the bar from five yards after James Tarkowski had headed a corner down to him in the 35th minute. Less than two minutes later, City led.
Up until this point, the champions had not been their usual selves. Guardiola had rested four players – John Stones, Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva – ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg with Real Madrid and were lacking a little zip and fluency.
Up front Haaland was involved in a battle for physical supremacy with Yerry Mina and was not always winning. Indeed in the first 35 minutes, the Norwegian touched the ball just twice and not at all in the Everton half.
Still, though, City sprang from nowhere to take the lead. The cross from Riyad Mahrez on the right was a decent one but left Gundogan, back to goal, with an awful lot to do. It took a split second and two touches to turn possibility in to reality.
Everton manager Sean Dyche (left) cut a frustrated figure at times as his Everton side started brightly but quickly faded against City
James Tarkowski’s (far right) header was tipped onto the bar by Man City’s Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson (left)
First the ball was cushioned on the German’s thigh, then it was hooked back towards goal and over his right shoulder with his right foot. In Everton’s goal, Jordan Pickford doubtless didn’t even see the ball until it was almost past him. It was fruitless even diving.
Guardiola (right) celebrated with Haaland (left) at full-time
It was almost possible to feel the air sucked out of Goodison Park at that moment. When City score first, they can be devilishly difficult to reign in and Everton hadn’t even had time to think about how they may do that when they were two down.
This time the danger came from the other side. Gundogan reached the byline on the left, hooked his foot around the ball and delivered it to the far post where Haaland rose to head powerfully through Pickford’s attempt at a right-handed save from about seven yards.
On the touchline, Dyche put a finger to each of temples as if to urge his players to concentrate. It could be argued that it was a little too late for that.
Thankfully for the home team, there was to be no more damage suffered before half-time. It required one superb clearance from almost on his own goal line from Mina to ensure this was the case but bad news was still to follow when Calvert-Lewin didn’t appear for the second half.
At this stage of the season, managers need reliability. Dyche will tonight rue the absence of that while Guardiola’s season runs hot on the back of a group of players upon who he knows he can depend.
Gundogan (right) scored his second goal of the game with a perfectly-placed free-kick from the edge of the box
It was a difficult afternoon for Everton goalkeeper Pickford who was beaten by three brilliant strikes from City’s stars
Gundogan came through for his manager again five minutes in to the second half. Phil Foden was brought down by James Garner as he made progress towards the penalty area down the left. Garner was booked for the trip but the real punishment was exacted by Gundogan who curled the resulting free-kick over the wall and in to the corner with his right foot.
It was hard not to feel for Everton at this stage and indeed, more widely, for Arsenal who, playing later in the day, were relying on mistakes from City to invite them back in a contest for the title.
Headers from successive corners did cause City some mild alarm in the 66th minute. City goalkeeper Ederson turned the first one over from substitute Aamadou Onana before Mina headed the next delivery down and up over the crossbar.
Everton had not stopped competing and that at least was an improvement on their last game at home when they collapsed to a 4-1 defeat to Newcastle. Indeed they were roared from the field by their supporters at full-time. There may be life left in them yet.