Football Features

Five things learned as Man City tighten grip on title with slender win over Burnley

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:15, 28 April 2019

In a tight and tense afternoon, Manchester City beat Burnley 1-0.

It was a phenomenally tense game that boiled down to attack vs. defence, and eventually attack prevailed. What did we learn?

1. Aguerooooooh, go on then I guess

City pummeled Burnley basically from start to finish in this game. Their attacking movement and interplay was sharp and they were inventive with their use of the ball too. They rarely resorted to hoofing the ball into the box, instead working it in with their usual panache.

Even the winning goal came from a guided diagonal pass from Bernardo Silva. Sure what happened there was scrappy, with Aguero squirming a shot that moved 29.5mm over the line before Matt Lowton got it away, but they still worked it in nicely.

The goal was Aguero’s 20th of the season, meaning he’s the first player since Thierry Henry to score 20+ league goals for five straight seasons. Considering all the hype his team-mates get, it’s weird that Aguero doesn’t get more love.

Consider that he’s now potentially scored two dramatic, potential title-clinching goals.

Now, in terms of dramatic, potential title-clinching goals it was decidedly underwhelming compared to previous efforts by other sides, City included (who can forget Aguero’s heroics in 2011/12?)

But it was just as important as them and perhaps fitting that a goal of such fine margins could decide such a close title race.

2. Burnley the brick wall

They may be as grim and gritty and unpleasant to watch as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but you have to admire Burnley. Firstly to be fair they don’t have the same kind of relative budget that Zack Snyder and co. did when producing that morass of nonsense – and secondly they’re Burnley!

Batman v. Superman was made by Warner Bros. who are far from close to a minnow even if they can’t come close to matching the all-encompassing brilliance of Walt Disney with their Marvel films.

Burnley are a tiny town with a population of of around 73,000. You could fit the entire place inside Old Trafford with room to spare. Yet through Sean Dyche’s managerial skills and a relentless commitment to tactical discipline, Burnley have managed to mix it with the big boys. And today they proved to be a truly obstinate opponent for Manchester City, frustrating the life out of Pep Guardiola’s men.

Burnley’s positional game was perfect and they were so quick to get a block in; it wasn’t a surprise that it took a margin call from goal-line technology to finally break them down.

No way City were going to open them up clean, they were too determined. And so even though they were horrible to watch, you can only admire Burnley’s ability to play above themselves.

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3. VAR is essential

If Liverpool do go on to win the Premier League then they will owe a huge debt of gratitude towards the Premier League for the organisation’s failure to implement VAR in this year’s competition.

Obviously the season is long and lots of decisions go for and against teams, but in such an incredible tight title race small decisions can have huge consequences. City’s early season draw with Wolves, in which the Midlands club scored from a handball, was a huge issue.

Then today when Silva’s shot was heading goalward, Ashley Barnes reached out and blocked the shot with his hand. The move happened too quickly for officials to have seen it, but video replays made it absolutely clear what had happened, and VAR would have gifted City a penalty that would have allowed them to take the lead.

As it is, it was down to another piece of footballing technology, goal-line tech, to give City the marginal call they needed to open the scoring. That goal would have never been allowed without the tech informing the referee’s decision, which just made plain why VAR is needed: to help referees make the correct decisions.

4. Sané Stymied

Leroy Sané has been a curious exclusion in all of Manchester City’s recent games. Curious because he’s excellent and City have been playing a litany of big games where you’d theorise they could use his game-breaking talents. And indeed he did come off the bench against Manchester United to settle the match in his side’s favour.

But this game showed perhaps why he has been left on the bench for use as an impact sub: he can be frustrated into incoherent and inefficient displays.

Now, sure, that doesn’t necessarily mean he deserves to be dropped but when City’s alternatives are the sublime Raheem Sterling and Silva, perhaps you can understand it.

Today Burnley put constant bodies in his way and Lowton was always in close attendance so the German couldn’t build any real momentum and was, as a result, City’s first man removed.

There’s no doubt Sané is a stupendous talent and a huge player for Manchester City, but if he wants to be a regular starter he will need to produce with more consistency.

5. City’s grip gets tighter

Whilst you never want to say “this is it,” well, this does really look like it.

Manchester City are top of the league with two games to play. A home tie against Leicester and a trip to Brighton on the South Coast. Neither will be an easy game especially as Leicester are in form but by beating Spurs, Manchester United and now Burnley; Guardiola’s men have come through their toughest test of the run-in.

No team has retained the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United did three-in-a-row a decade ago in 2008/09.

And Sir Alex was one of just two managers (along with José Mourinho) to have actually retained the title. It’s an incredibly exclusive club, and Guardiola could be about to join it by coming through what has been one of the most epic title races ever.

Both sides have 90+ points but right now it does feel like City are going to outlast Liverpool.