Football Features

“The key to City’s hope and dreams” – Five things learned as Man City batter Burnley in prime time

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:26, 3 December 2019

In a crushing night of football, Manchester City battered Burnley 1-4 at Turf Moor.

The Premier League champions rebounded after a disappointing weekend to absolutely smash Sean Dyche’s Burnley. They were dominant from start to finish, but what did we learn?

1. Jesus Rises

Gabriel Jesus came into tonight on a Premier League dry streak. The Brazilian hadn’t scored in the English top flight since he notched against Crystal Palace in the middle of October (his solitary goal across all competitions in the last two months!). This was a massive worry as Sergio Aguero, who had scored six in the same timeframe, is now out injured.

Jesus was going to have to rise up if City were to make it through the upcoming fixtures, in particular this weekend’s Manchester Derby, and against Burnley he did just that. Turf Moor is not an easy place to go. City themselves only won 0-1 here last season and even that goal needed technology to confirm it; the margins were that small.

But Jesus was determined. He looked lively from the start in a way he wasn’t in his previous outing against Newcastle, pushing the Burnley defenders back with his movement. He opened the scoring with a truly sumptuous curling strike from the corner of the box, an almost impossible angle to bend the ball out and then back in.

His second goal, by contrast, was more of a poacher’s finish. The kind of thing you’d often see Aguero doing, just drifting into space and adding a quality finish to thump the ball into the back of the net. This was the kind of goal that, if he can start scoring with regularity, should see his goal numbers rise to the point where he could again be considered a genuine alternative to Aguero.

2. Rodri reasserts control

Rodri didn’t start the game against Newcastle at the weekend, and he only came on as part of a strange late-game switch to hold onto the lead as Guardiola had him replace Jesus. That backfired on City as the Magpies equalised, but tonight we saw just why Rodri is so important to Pep Guardiola’s men.

From the base of midfield, Rodri exerted tremendous authority over the entire game. He made three tackles, more than any City player, regaining possession an incredible 12 times, more than any player on the Turf Moor pitch. He had 119 touches, the most in the game, and made 93/102 passes, also game-highs. Oh, and he scored City’s third with an absolute piledriver.

In short, the Spaniard showed just why Pep Guardiola spent all that money to secure him from Atlético Madrid in the summer. Rodri is the key to City’s hope and dreams; a player who allows them to control the tempo of games, something they need to get better at doing if they want to both claw back the gap on Liverpool and make serious advancements in the Champion League.

3. Burnley have no Plan B

With Ashley Barnes not fit enough to start the game, Burnley did the unthinkable and changed formation. Gone was the 4-4-2 and in came a 4-2-3-1 with Jeff Hendrick playing behind Chris Wood, who ploughed a lone furrow up-front.

Suffice to say, this didn’t work. Burnley were almost wholly absent from the first hour of the match. They managed just two shots in the first half and neither were on target. Now, Burnley were always going to lose the possession here, but that they couldn’t even pose a threat on the break shows how immensely limited they are as a team.

Everyone always attacks proactive, passing teams for “not having a Plan B” when their usual style of play doesn’t work. In truth, however, it’s more rudimentary sides like Burnley that often have no other way of playing. No alternative to bludgeoning your opponent about the head.

It was so telling that Burnley’s brightest bit of the game came just after Ashley Barnes and Jay Rodriguez were both introduced (yes, they scored late on but it was a freak deflection that saw the ball reach Robbie Brady, not any sustained pressure) with Burnley returning to a front two. It didn’t last, of course, with City reasserting their dominance, and it has to trouble Sean Dyche that his side couldn’t adjust even a little bit from their usual pattern of play.

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4. Width is the weapon

Width is perhaps the most dangerous thing in Premier League these days, and today we saw two sides use it in different ways. Manchester City owned possession and yes they were immense in the middle of the park, but their dominance in the middle came from their quality out wide.

By placing both of their wingers high and wide on the field, they managed to stretch Burnley all across the field and create more space for those playmakers in the middle who could, in turn, find their wingers 1v1 where chances could be created as it happened with City’s second goal. Their shape was sublime, and it decided the game for them even though City’s big guns (Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne) didn’t really fire.

Then there’s Burnley, who are a heavy crossing side that often use Dwight McNeil’s delivery to create chances. But because they play so direct, either off their strikers or McNeil going on a run down the wing, they were constrained by the whims of individualism. The strikers weren’t at it and McNeil wasn’t either (he attempted just three crosses and none of them found a team-mate) which meant that Burnley were basically impotent until a lucky deflection gifted them a glorious chance.

5. City warming up for the Derby in style

When Manchester City failed to beat Newcastle at the weekend, Liverpool could have really taken heart that with a tricky trip to Turf Moor and the always unpredictable Manchester derby on the horizon, the odds that City could genuinely be well out of the title race within a week was very, very real.

Then the real Manchester City stood up and was counted. The Premier League champions rocked Burnley’s faces off, dominating the game from start to finish and only conceding thanks to a freak deflection. They came to a ground at which they had previously scored just four goals across many games and scored four in one night.

Their best players either shone or played well up to the final shot, which was frustrating enough to be a motivator ahead of the derby against United. Their striker scored twice, they got some valuable minutes for young Phil Foden and Eric Garcia, resting De Bruyne and Fernandinho along the way. It was a spectacular showing from City on prime time.