Everton vs. Man City: Romelu Lukaku Inspires a Cup Win

Everton's Romelu Lukaku in action with Manchester City's Fernandinho at Goodison Park on Wednesday, January 6. Lukaku scored his 19th goal of the season to hand Everton the advantage in the Capital One Cup semi-final. Andrew Yates/Reuters

Good thing semi-finals come in pairs. Tuesday night's Capital One Cup semi-final first leg game between Stoke City and Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium was dour enough to put a caffeine-fueled insomniac to sleep.

But Everton and Manchester City served up something very different on Wednesday. This was a high-octane affair in which Everton matched and then surpassed its more illustrious visitors to Goodison Park. Everton will take a 2-1 lead to the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City's home, for the second leg in three weeks' time. Some takeaways from a febrile night of cup football.

David Moyes was back to state the obvious

A pearl of wisdom before the game from Moyes, the former Everton manager: "Getting to semi-finals gives you a chance of getting to finals. Getting to finals gives you a chance of winning it." Even the most vociferous contrarian would struggle to argue their way around that one.

Ross Barkley may be England's solution...and its problem

Ross Barkley down injured for Everton. Looks to be in a lot of pain. Clutching his right foot.

— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarrett) January 6, 2016

Luckily for Everton and manager Roberto Martinez, Barkley got back up soon enough and trotted back onto the pitch unruffled. He struggled to get on the ball in the opening 20 minutes though, as Manchester City's slick attackers dominated. There were classy touches aplenty from City winger Kevin De Bruyne, in particular. Barkley will be central to England's hopes in the next few years. But it's a worry for English fans that players like De Bruyne, the Belgian, and David Silva, another City attacker on show last night who plays for Spain, seem to be several technical leagues above him. That doesn't stop Barkley from being a bull of a player, as he proved in the second half, shoulder-butting defender Nicolas Otamendi out of the way before his shot was saved by Joe Hart. In the end, he had a far better game than the City forwards. Strength and desire will trump talent without hard work, at least in the short term. It's the long-term prognosis that may be troubling.

Muhamed Besic makes point about grit to Roberto Martinez

Ah, this was fun. On 28 minutes, Yaya Toure, the City midfielder, took off on one of those characteristic long runs, blowing steam, advancing on the Everton penalty area. But Toure hadn't reckoned on Muhamed Besic, who hooked out a limb and stripped the ball from Toure's feet, leaving him in an embarrassed heap. After Everton drew with Tottenham on Sunday, Everton fans took to Twitter to demand that Besic start more often for the club. And they were absolutely right. Martinez wants Everton to play pretty, but tough-pretty is a much more effective combination.

Besic, who has been excellent so far, wins a tackle with Yaya Toure to bring Goodison Park to life. Everton need a spark from somewhere.

— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) January 6, 2016

Manchester City remains a riddle wrapped in a conundrum surrounded by an enigma

Admit it: Nobody really understands Manchester City. The team was superb at Goodison Park in the first 20 minutes of the game, okay for the next 10, and then miserable for the remainder of the first half such that Everton had the ball in the net—twice—though both efforts were ruled out for offside.

Then, towards injury time, City came alive again, with striker Sergio Aguero forcing Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles into a good save. To add another layer of confusion, City then lost its collective concentration, allowing Barkley a powerful shot from the edge of the area. Ramiro Funes Mori, the Everton defender, turned the ball home. You could say that City is no longer playing for Manuel Pellegrini, the manager who may be replaced by Pep Guardiola in the summer. But that doesn't wash, because half the time it looks very good indeed. Maybe the problem is… the players. And that's a lot harder to fix than getting rid of the manager.

Subbing off Eliaquim Mangala won't do anything for his confidence

While we're on the subject of Manchester City being weird… Eliaquim Mangala, City's £42 million ($60 million) central defender, was taken off at half time. He was substituted on Saturday, too, when City came from behind to beat Watford 2-1 away at Vicarage Road, though on that occasion it was more understandable as he was removed for striker Wilfried Bony. On Wednesday, though, it was Martin Demichelis, another central defender, who was swapped in. Mangala didn't do anything wrong, and he certainly could do nothing about Everton's goal. And City didn't exactly look any more solid with Demichelis on the pitch. It's not the best way to imbue a player lacking in confidence with the stuff. Plus, he does a good parody of an alpha male in a fragrance advert.

Manchester City needs to sell Yaya Toure

There are great ladlefuls of talent in this Manchester City team, but a new manager, be he Pep Guardiola or anyone else, needs to sell Yaya Toure. The City captain was awful, quite simply, all night long, and for a leader that's simply not good enough. As great a player as he has been, City needs to move on with someone younger and hungrier. Woe betide City if it loses Aguero, though. The striker's touch for the equalizing goal was perfect, and his pass to Jesus Navas was even better. So good, in fact, that the Spanish winger could not miss despite his legendarily bad shooting.

What if Jesus Navas was left-footed all along?

— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) January 6, 2016

Romelu Lukaku is to Everton as Sergio Aguero is to Manchester City

It sounds like a child's riddle, but it's true. Lukaku has become, if not a world-class striker, then certainly one in the general area of the elite and completely crucial to his team. His headed goal, right after City had equalized, emphasized all that is good about him. Cleverness of movement, power to get into position, and then composure to hammer the header past Hart in the City goal. It's too simplistic to say that Chelsea will be ruing selling him to Everton on a permanent deal in July 2014, but Lukaku has 12 goals in 12 games in all competitions. Those kind of statistics will get European football's big beasts salivating. Everton had better prepare for a tug of war.

Romelu Lukaku, laughing all the way to the bank and/or goal pic.twitter.com/zKfBZvUBKJ

— Howler Magazine (@whatahowler) January 6, 2016

About the writer

Sportswriter at Newsweek.

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