Guardiola and Man City may be left to rue decision despite title edging closer

Everton V Manchester City: Pictures

Lord of the Lost may have collected the Eurovision wooden spoon but Ilkay Gundogan made sure it wasn’t all bad for Germany in the city of Liverpool. Two superb goals from the Manchester City captain and an assist for Erling Haaland pushed the champions one step closer to a fifth title in six years at Everton today. Unlike the abominable offering of his spandex-clad countrymen, Gundogan lit up Merseyside with a wonderful performance in keeping with his form of late.

The way the 32-year-old is playing makes it all the more surprising that City have yet to nail him down for next season. Gundogan’s contract expires at the end of the season. He would like a two-year extension but City are offering one. Barcelona are sniffing an opportunity.

If this is to be his final season, it could end up being one to remember with City’s treble ambitions very much alive. Everton away, particularly after their stunning 5-1 win at Brighton, looked a potential banana skin assignment sandwiched in between the two Champions League semifinal legs. It didn’t turn out that way. The gulf between the two sides – even with a tweaked City line-up – was cavernous.

Pep Guardiola, refreshed after a two-day break back with his family in Barcelona, opted to make four changes with Wednesday’s second leg against Real Madrid in mind. Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and John Stones were all stood down the starting line-up.

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Still, when a manager is able to bring in Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Julian Alvarez and Aymeric Laporte instead it makes rotation a lot easier. City have actually used fewer players than any other Premier League side this season – 22 – but it is quality rather than quantity which counts for the champions.

Everton, set up by Sean Dyche to contain City with nine men behind the ball, contained City at first. Had Mason Holgate converted just after the half hour mark instead of fluffing his lines after James Tarkowski had won a header from Dwight McNeil’s corner, the game may have had a different complexion but he didn’t and once Gundogan had given City the lead in the 37th minute the writing was on the wall. It was a sublime piece of skill, as he took Mahrez’s cross on his thigh before swivelling to poke it on the volleying past Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal.

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Two minutes later Gundogan surged down the left wing to set up the chance for Haaland to head home. It was the Norwegian’s 52nd goal of the season and he is now 11 behind Dixie Dean whose statue stands outside Goodison Park.

Gundogan made it 3-0 in the 51st minute with a precision free-kick which left Pickford flailing after Phil Foden had been hacked down by James Garner. Everton’s main threat – make that their only threat with Dominic Calvert-Lewin withdrawn at half time – was from setpieces and Tarkowski forced a flying save out of Ederson with a 66th minute header from a corner.

But that was pretty much it. The defeat leaves Everton in high stress mode. If Leicester turn over Liverpool tonight they will drop into the relegation zone. City move on injury-free and in good spirits.

After the final whistle Guardiola went across to the travelling City fans and shared their joy. The treble edges ever closer.

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