Manchester City players celebrate during their FA Cup win over Everton (The FA via Getty Images)
It is a rare occurrence when the post-match assessments of both managers paint a true reflection of the game.
As the floodlights cut through the dark at Goodison Park, with Everton’s aim of winning a first trophy since 1995 blacked out for another year, Carlo Ancelotti was pained by “almost.”
His side had come so close to getting the better of Manchester City, but their best on Saturday evening still wasn’t good enough.
After being frustrated and starved of high-quality chances – afforded just two shots inside the box – Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne struck in the final 10 minutes to stick Pep Guardiola’s men in the FA Cup semi-finals.
“We were almost there,” Ancelotti said in part-agony and part-pride. “We did the best that we can do, we defended well, we were fighting.
“For at least 80 minutes we had the game under control, we did not concede many opportunities. I am satisfied because we competed well against the best team in the world – they are the best – we wanted to keep them uncomfortable, we were focused and didn’t concede space.
“We played the game we wanted to play, but they have the best team and the best bench in the world.”
Everton went into the interval having carved out the two best openings of the encounter. Before Gundogan’s 82nd-minute effort, there wasn’t certainty that City would score given how well the hosts had obstructed them.
Yet there was a zen about the team targeting an unprecedented quadruple. In previous seasons, despite their inarguable brilliance, there were two prominent marks against City. They were too vulnerable in transition and tended to get annoyed rather than emboldened when things didn’t go their way, be it VAR calls or losing the physical battle.
But not this version of Guardiola’s engineering. City were incredibly patient at Goodison and seemed to believe that their opportunity to decide the clash would arrive.
Everton were doing everything that their opponents historically hated: “Aggressive in the good sense of the word, always with the long balls and Dominic Calvert-Lewin so strong with every throw like a corner,” to borrow Guardiola’s analysis.
And yet, City absorbed it all and adjusted accordingly. They were happy to win ugly, scrappy, by whatever means necessary.
Ilkay Gundogan celebrates scoring against Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finalsThe FA via Getty Images
“It was one of the toughest games we have played in the last year,” Guardiola admitted. “The opponents know that we are going to press and not let them breathe. When you have Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, it is a good alternative because they make that long ball and attack the middle and run in behind.
“They are so tall and aggressive at set pieces. Every throw-in is a corner so anything can happen. But in terms of control we didn’t concede much. This game must be played the way we play it. Don’t make mistakes and the moment will come – maybe the 90th minute, maybe in extra-time but don’t do what happened [with] the first goal against Manchester United.”
City were too rash and rushed in their Manchester derby defeat, their only blot in an age. They have been a picture of surety before and after that loss and can no longer be bullied.
“When you win 34 games from 39, it is because you need this characteristic. We adapt, adjust and play the game we need to play.”
The City that have designs on a clean sweep of trophies are no longer just aesthetically pleasing. And this alteration is ultimately why all trophies remain in play.
“We don’t always show the best or most attractive football anymore,” noted Gundogan. “It is now about staying in the game and finding the right moments… you have to if you want to win trophies and fight for everything.”
City are doing that exceptionally well.