The Blues enter this weekend’s game against Burnley on the back of ten straight wins in all competitions, following the hard-fought victory against Napoli on Tuesday night. With their position now consolidated at the top of Group F, City can now fully focus on the Premier League and currently hold a two-point lead over the closest competition.
Looking at our current run of form you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game against Burnley should be a walk in the park… But you’d be very, very wrong. If any game presents a potential banana skin it’s this one, and the Clarets continue to display a team ethic and level of discipline that’s incredibly hard to nurture.
Sean Dyche’s men have already secured great results away at Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham and, most notably, Chelsea, where they grabbed a 3-2 victory after storming into a 3-0 lead. They currently sit in 7th place after 8 games (with 13 points), a position they’d have dreamt about before the season began.
Their form has led to Sean Dyche being linked, deservedly, to the vacant Leicester City position.
It’s tough to single out one player in a team that’s built around being a unit, but I’d expect Robbie Brady to cause us problems.
The ex-Manchester United youth teamer has a wand of a left foot and his delivery from set-pieces can be deadly. It wouldn’t surprise me if Burnley’s entire attacking game plan focused on this strength, winning corners and free-kicks in dangerous areas, and bringing the likes of Tarkowski forward from the back.
Brady will also be looking to whip balls into Chris Wood, so Kyle Walker will need to close him down quickly and look to peg him in his own half for long periods of the match.
With Tom Heaton still injured, youngster Pope will continue in goal. In front of him they’ve played with the same back four all season, so expect to see the same again with Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee (ex-City) and Ward.
It will be in midfield where Burnley may make a few changes, as they look to pack the centre and get a grip of Silva and De Bruyne. But Dyche is more likely to continue with Defour alongside Jack Cork, who’s guile and experience will be vital for them to break up our passing moves and hold onto possession.
Out wide I expect Brady and Arfield, with Hendrick starting just behind Chris Wood to provide both defensive and attacking support.
View from the Opposition
To get the inside track on this weekend’s opponents, I spoke to Burnley fan Dave Roberts.
Who has been your key man this season?
The whole back four has started every single match so far, and so there’s a temptation to choose the entire defence. However, particular credit should go to James Tarkowski, who has stepped in magnificently to replace Michael Keane.
How do you think the game will go?
I think the result will be closer than most people think. Odds of 28-1 are being offered for Burnley to win, and a 6-0 win to City is lower odds than that. Burnley have only conceded six goals in the league all season, and so will try to keep it tight and frustrate City as much as possible. Burnley’s record in the Premier League against City is reasonably good (draws in 2009/10 & 2014/15, and a narrow defeat in 2016/17), so I’m hopeful that we could extend our good run away from home so far this season, and defy the odds to earn a point.
What’s your predicted team for this weekend?
The team almost picks itself, but I think there might be a temptation for Sean Dyche to start Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who played so well in the second half against West Ham United. So probably:
Lowton Mee Tarkowski Ward
Gudmundsson Cork Defour Brady
(Hendrick is likely to start in a slightly more advanced role than the other four midfielders, but could drop back into a midfield five. The two wide midfielders may also swap flanks.)
What’s your prediction for the season and where will Burnley finish up?
I am hopeful that Burnley can build on a very good start and push on to make an improvement on the 16th place finish from last season. It’s usually so close in the middle of the table, and so a top ten finish should certainly be on our radar.
Finallly… your thoughts on Manchester City this season?
It finally seems to have clicked for City so far this season, and they have been demolishing other teams for fun, and playing some really good free-flowing football. However, bearing in mind the money they’ve spent they have under-performed since Pep took over, and should be right up there at the top. Although United also seem much stronger this season, and Spurs and Chelsea are likely to challenge, I can’t see the title going anywhere other than the Etihad Stadium in May.