Superb Stekelenburg denies Man City
Everton goalkeeper stuns the Citizens with incredible performance
MAN CITY 1
(Romelu Lukaku 64)
Pep Guardiola was always going to be wary of a gifted Dutchman against Everton last night. He just guessed the wrong Dutchman.
Ronald Koeman picked up an outstanding point at Manchester City, but Maarten Stekelenburg made the 1-1 draw possible.
His goalkeeping defied belief. His saves belonged in comic books. His reflexes appeared beyond human, the kind of balletic acrobatics usually associated with cats dropped from a considerable height.
The Everton goalkeeper saved two penalties, pulled off a string of eye-catching stops, including a dramatic effort at full stretch that already belongs in any season highlights package.
Stekelenburg's performance was the kind that makes kids pick up a ball and a pair of gloves.
His saves could yet have a huge bearing on the final destination of the Premier League title.
But still, questions must be asked of Guardiola's selections and tactics, opting for a three-man central defence that simply did not work.
The pre-match speculation focused on Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling and how Guardiola might cope without the pair.
In the end, the duo shook off their knocks so the Spaniard picked them both and rested Sergio Aguero, instead.
Even allowing for the Argentine's midweek exertions in South America, the unexpected tactical gamble was not without risk.
Guardiola is clearly banking on his marksman's precision for the Champions League date with Barcelona in midweek, but Everton arrived at the Etihad with the second best defence in the English Premier League.
City's inability to turn their superior possession into goals only undermined Guardiola's decision to rest Aguero in favour of Kelechi Iheanacho.
And then de Bruyne and Stekelenburg combined to ridicule Guardiola's recklessness further.
In the 42nd minute, David Silva was clumsily hacked down by Phil Jagielka.
With City's regular penalty taker gathering splinters on the bench, de Bruyne swept a soft penalty too close to the Dutch custodian, who clawed the ball to safety.
In truth, the hosts deserved the lead, but Everton's resilient central defence clung to their clean sheet like over-eager laundry workers, with Ashley Williams highlighting once again what an astute signing he was.
Koeman, who once roomed with a young Guardiola at Barcelona, refused to park buses at the Etihad, as if it insulted his old Nou Camp sensibilities.
The Toffees remained committed to their attacking principles of 4-3-3 with a couple of creative wide men either side of Romelu Lukaku and Yannick Bolasie stung Claudio Bravo's palms early in the second half.
On the touchline, Guardiola had seen enough. Aguero arrived to a standing ovation with half an hour to go.
Whatever jet-lag the Argentine might have been suffering from was nothing compared to the sleepwalking zombies masquerading as a back three for City.
Against the run of play and every sensible odd, the Toffees broke along their left flank and released Lukaku.
The burly Belgian found himself one-on-one with Gael Clichy in the 64th minute. It wasn't a fair fight.
Lukaku swatted the French veteran aside as if brushing off a mosquito. His exquisite finish was low and precise. And then the game moved into comedic chaos.
First, Jagielka somehow conceded a second penalty, pulling down Aguero, only for Stekelenburg to somehow save a second penalty, denying the Argentine this time.
The substitute's run-up was jittery and the strike under-hit, but the goalkeeper's heroics were no less commendable. The Dutchman deserved a clean sheet but, of course, he didn't get one in the blurry craziness.
In the 72nd minute, and with his first real touch after coming on less than 60 seconds earlier, Nolito met Silva's cross to plant a header into the bottom corner.
But neither Everton nor their extraordinary goalkeeper caved to the pressure.
Stekelenburg subseqeuntly produced the save of the weekend in the 81st minute, when he took off with the grace of an Olympic springboard diver to spectacularly push de Bruyne's fierce drive onto the post.
City fans were already celebrating. The save was that good.
But then Stekelenburg was that good.
Between him and the centre backs, Everton are blessed with a redoubtable rearguard.
The goalkeeper had all the answers, which now leaves Guardiola facing a few difficult questions.
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