It isn’t always easy to set aside the partisan instincts that go hand in hand with supporting a team, but if one is able to do so for just a moment, it must be acknowledged that Manchester City are a magnificent football team.
The speed and precision with which they move the ball around, the confidence that each player demonstrates in his own technique, and that of his teammates, all combine to produce football of logical simplicity and beguiling beauty. On the odd occasions when they don’t have the ball, they swarm around their opponents like wasps at a picnic and recover possession in a matter of seconds.
At the Etihad Stadium yesterday, Burnley had to contend with this footballing storm, as well as the metrological storm, named (for reasons that escape me) “Brian”, which swirled around Manchester for the duration of the game and throughout a soggy homeward journey.
For the most part, the Clarets coped pretty well. They defended with their customary resolve and discipline; they retained their shape and stuck rigidly to their task. But at the moment, it seems that there is no game plan that any manager can adopt which is capable of knocking City off their stride.
It was frustrating therefore that when Burnley did succumb they were undone in so mundane a fashion as a penalty award which was harsh in the extreme, and a far post header from a corner which Stephen Defour should have cleared off the line.
The third goal, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty. It is by no means easy to find a single pass which can split open Burnley’s defence, but Kevin DeBruyne did so, and the grateful recipient, Leroy Sane, finished with aplomb.
Back to the penalty; Sean Dyche was spot on in his post-match interview when he pointed out that the amount of contact applied by Nick Pope on Bernardo Silva was insufficient to topple a small child. James Tarkowski made the same point directly to Silva but in a more forceful manner in the immediate aftermath of the challenge.
If Pope’s challenge on Silva was enough to yield a penalty, then so too, surely, was the one by Joe Hart on Chris Wood at Turf Moor last week.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the penalty, it should be acknowledged that Pope had an otherwise excellent game. His blossoming in the Clarets’ goal since Tom Heaton’s injury has been one of the highlights of Burnley’s season so far. Down the line, it leaves Dyche with a conundrum once Heaton is fit.
Due to the manner in which they stood up manfully to the sternest task that the Premier League currently has to offer, Burnley should emerge from their Etihad ordeal with their confidence intact and their stride unbroken. Rafa Benitez will be bringing his Newcastle team to Turf Moor next week.
Newcastle are currently riding the wave of a strong sequence of results which has propelled them up the league, in doing so they have utilised a game plan which is very similar to that of Burnley’s. For that reason, next week’s televised match may not feature the sort of flowing end-to-end football that will satisfy the neutral viewer. But this is football, who wants to be neutral?
This Burnley centric match report was written by Dave Thornley who contributes regularly on behalf of Clarets Mad. (TEC).