Whenever the fixture list comes out at the beginning of the year, the majority of City fans have a select few games they go looking for. These include the Manchester derbies, the tough trip to Anfield and the so called ‘run in’ games in April and May. When I found myself looking at the fixture list, I pencilled Burnley away as a tough game purely because of the 1980s-like atmosphere that is created in the wooden Turf Moor. This game came at a tough time for Pep Guardiola, on the back of a tough European trip in Germany and right before the Christmas period which is unlike anything he has ever had to deal with before. A slip-up here wouldn’t have been utterly ‘disastrous’ as the NBC crew put it, but it wouldn’t have been ideal preparation for the tough Christmas period.
Guardiola made multiple changes to the lineup and went with his so called ‘power’ midfield of Fernando, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure. This was a trio we saw very little of under Manuel Pellegrini, who generally preferred to crowbar Jesus Navas into the lineup and put Toure in a midfield two. The trio was picked for a couple of reasons, one was rotation, but the main reason was because of the type of team Burnley are. Burnley play a scrappy compact 4-5-1, so Fernando and Fernandinho were both necessary to ensure that City could win the ball back and get it under control throughout the game.
In honesty, there was only one team trying to play football here, and it sure as hell wasn’t Sean Dyche’s Burnley. Their consistent cynicism and their ugly long ball style wasn’t pretty to watch in the slightest, but he seems to be immune from any kind of criticism from the mainstream media. Their style of play was best summed up just after Leroy Sané came on, as soon as he ran onto the pitch, Burnley defender Stephen Ward walked up to him and pushed him for no apparent reason. I’m sure Sean Dyche would praise him for showing ‘fibre’ or ‘character’ or some other cliché ridden bollocks like that. This, combined with Burnley fans chanting ‘you let your country down’ to Raheem Sterling, just made this win feel even more special.
City’s game started with a complete brain-fart moment when Nicolas Otamendi pushed Jeff Hendrick inside the box for no reason. Luckily for us, there was a mix of offside and Marriner not having a clue what was happening that worked in our favour. Despite this, it was yet another strange moment from Nicolas Otamendi who continues to do crazy things at the most random times.
Burnley’s first goal pretty much mirrored their entire game plan, long balls to Sam Vokes and then hope for the absolute best. Vokes’ knockdown was finished well by Dean Marney who scored his first Premier League goal for seven years. Claudio Bravo had no chance, and it was extremely frustrating to be losing to a chance that was miniscule at best.
City then created a series of half chances, Nolito fired a tame effort straight into Paul Robinson and Sergio Aguero belted one over after having it chested down for him by Raheem Sterling. The signs were positive however, Yaya Toure was starting to grow into the game and the link-up was therefore becoming much more crisp and worthwile.
Then came the equaliser, and it was quite beautiful that Burnley had a taste of their own awful tasting medicine. A corner somehow found it’s way to the back post, where Sergio Aguero stabbed it in ahead of former England keeper Paul Robinson. It wasn’t pretty, but Aguero read the situation really well and deserves credit for his anticipation. I think the kids these days are accusing Sergio Aguero of ‘stat padding’- whatever that means.
A few minutes later, Aguero sent a shot towards the far post with his left foot and Paul Robinson rediscovered his 2004 form by making a spectacular stop on the stretch. It was at this point I feared it would not be our day.
Luckily for us, Sean Dyche decided that Burnley would no longer try to attack as he replaced Johann Berg Gudmundsson (who was ironically their biggest threat) with former Brentford centre back James Tarkowski. Burnley were causing problems with their high three-man press, but when Tarkowski came on Burnley retreated into a shell and in all honesty it played into our hands.
I hate the use of the word ‘desire’ in football punditry as it is a lazy word that doesn’t really hold any meaning, but City’s winner was simply a mix of luck and desire from Fernandinho. Ben Mee played secret agent as he knocked Stephen Ward out of play and when the ball broke, Fernandinho bombed to the byline and cut it back for Aguero, who somehow managed to turn it past Paul Robinson. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it did the job in a really horrible ground.
Burnley offered very little for the rest of the game and City fully deserved the win despite not really ever hitting fifth gear. As the pundits say, it was a ‘win of champions’, Burnley don’t really play football and to come out of that physical atmosphere with three hard earned points is a blessing. This wasn’t a game that can really be tactically analysed, but it was a relatively high tempo game that City played well in. You could say this is the ideal way to prepare for the visit of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea next week.