This was not a performance Manchester City will look back on fondly, but when the final reckoning comes in May it might just be the kind of game that proves to be vital.
At the time, nobody knows when the decisive moments in a 38-game season are upon us, but as the clock ticked into the final 20 minutes at the Etihad on Saturday, an afternoon that should have been routine for City had turned decidedly edgy. The Blues had gradually awoken from their slumber but Jordan Pickford's goal remained fairly untroubled until Erling Haaland settled nerves with an unstoppable strike.
The ecstasy in Haaland's celebration of his first goal since November 28 spoke volumes about how important this win was. Not only did it return City to the top of the table for the first time in three months, but it kept the momentum that had started at Goodison Park on December 27 going. Six successive wins in the league have made Pep Guardiola's side favourites for the title once again.
City player ratings vs Everton
City vs Everton as it happened
But with Liverpool and Arsenal in the picture as well, this is shaping up to be a title race like no other for City. They have bettered both teams previously, but in the Guardiola era they are yet to go toe-to-toe with two rivals down the stretch. It could change the narrative and it might make it harder to shake both off over time.
City have the experience, however. It was a point Guardiola touched on during his pre-match press conference on Friday. Alongside the pride that his side are "there" once again, competing for three trophies, was talk about how his players often come alive at this stage of the season, when vital fixtures in the league, Europe and FA Cup flow into each other every few days.
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