So then. Phil Foden has been passed fit and he starts for Guardiola’s strikerless wonders, while Raheem Sterling also gets the chance to play himself back into favour. But the real surprise is the inclusion of 19-year-old Cole Palmer, who makes his first Premier League start. Palmer is highly thought of and got his first senior goal in the win a Club Bruges this season. He made his debut against Burnley in October … and scored a hat-trick for the club’s under-23 team that night. Not bad eh?
Six months into Rafael Benitez’s Everton reign, the team’s progress under his stewardship has been unsteady. He has coaxed great form from unlikely sources (Andros Townsend, Demarai Gray) but failed thus far to get the best from his most talented attackers (Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin). A good start has given way to a severe recent wobble, and although a run of three defeats was ended last week in the only way Benitez knows how – a gruelling big-game 0-0 – he’ll need more than creditable draws in the long run.
Benitez’s resources have been severely limited (the club that spent £100m on Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi and Gylfi Sigurdsson gave him just £1.7m in the summer) and so far the Goodison crowd has given their old nemesis their backing. But with the team winless in five and the Merseyside derby a fortnight away, patience may soon run begin to thin.
Meanwhile it’s hard times for Manchester City, who come into today’s game without their best player, their record signing and – maybe – their hottest youngster. Whether those absences will be much felt is another matter, though, given the middling form of Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish this season, and the fact that Phil Foden can be replaced by one of many fleet-footed creators at Pep Guardiola’s disposal.
City enjoyed themselves last week during their walking-pace victory in the Manchester derby but their shock 2-0 loss at the hands of Crystal Palace the week before offered proof that Guardiola’s team are eminently beatable, so long as you’re organised, resilient and capable of spring the odd lightning counterattack. Which just so happens to be the very battle-plan Benitez has spent his entire career perfecting. Stay tuned – this one could be good.
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