It was a frustrating night for Manchester City. A game they dominated admirably was one in which they were hampered by an outrageous sending off leaving them a man light for the entirety of the second half.
You may not have known of the disadvantage from the chances Pep Guardiola’s team created, nor the possession stats, but a draw under the circumstances is certainly a positive result.
One positive to come out of the game, though, was the solidity of the back three. With Vincent Kompany coming through another 90 minutes of football and looking fit enough to lead his team to another title challenge, City’s back line looks more adept at dealing with counter-attacks than it was last season, even if Leroy Sane’s misjudged pass – when the ball was running harmlessly out of play – caused the confusion which eventually led to Everton’s goal.
After the game, both Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman noted that Nicolas Otamendi was left on the ball by Everton’s front men. Whilst they pressed John Stones and Vincent Kompany in possession, Otamendi was presumably deemed less of a threat by Koeman and his backroom team, but the Argentine international barely put a foot wrong all night. If he was the weak link, you wouldn’t have known it.
Thanks to the lack of pressure, Otamendi had more touches and completed more passes than any other player on the pitch. He spent the evening mostly taking the ball into midfield and recycling possession for City in order to launch yet another assault on Everton’s goal. His side managed 19 shots over the course of the entire game despite their one man disadvantage for all but three minutes of the second half, and it was the centre-back’s recycling of the possession that helped David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne to create those chances.
Indeed, three of them fell to Otamendi himself, when he forced a good save out of Jordan Pickford and then got on the end of the resulting corner, heading just wide.
When a centre back is left without pressure by design, immediately talk centres around just what this must say about the player in question. Just as in the Europa League final, when Jose Mourinho admitted that Davinson Sanchez was seen as weak enough on the ball to ignore when he was in possession, Otamendi is far from the Premier League’s most composed defender.
His aerial presence and his ability to win duels aren’t in question – he won more than double the aerial duels of any other player on the pitch last night – but it was his composure in not diving into tackles and picking his moments to come forward that stood out last night.
Wayne Rooney’s goal was the one blemish on City’s defence last night, and although there were mistakes leading up to the goal, so far this season it’s fair to say that City have looked much more solid at the back than they did for much of last season thanks to a back three system, a captain at full-fitness and a composed trio of centre-backs.
Despite the match incidents and the result which made it a frustrating night for Manchester City, there are some real positives to take from the defensive displays over the last two games. If City can keep Kompany fit, and keep Otamendi and Stones as composed as they were last night, the problems of last season could be adequately rectified.