The effervescent Belgian was all over the park on a rainy afternoon in Manchester, as he continues to exude the directness and touch of class City have arguably been missing for much of this season. Linking up exquisitely with Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus, City’s talismanic number 17 pulled all the strings as the Blues swept aside a rudderless Burnley in emphatic fashion.
Truth be told, Burnley’s defensive setup meant that it was always going to be a matter of time before this insanely attacking City side, who have now netted 28 goals in their past 8 games, found a way through. Find a way through they did, with strikes from Jesus, Silva, De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and a Kelvin Long own goal sending City on their way to the 5th round of the world’s oldest football tournament.
With next weekend’s trip to St James’ Park to face Newcastle United to be followed by hugely important home games against Arsenal and Chelsea, such a dominant performance is likely to send a bold message their various title contenders up and down the country.
City’s relentless pursuit of goals…
Perhaps what sets Manchester City apart from their top 6 rivals and what has essentially defined them under Pep Guardiola’s stewardship is their seemingly unquenchable thirst for goals, even from positions of unquestionable strength, and that was on display yet against Burnley at the Etihad Stadium.
Moments after a Nicolas Otamendi error nearly gifted Burnley an equalizer, City raced up the pitch and promptly grabbed a second goal to put the tie to bed, with Bernardo Silva latching on to De Bruyne’s slide-rule pass before firing past the wrong-footed Nick Pope. From that point on, it never really looked like they were settling for two, as Burnley found themselves pegged back in their own final third as City pressed for an opening.
It duly arrived nine minutes later, with De Bruyne himself getting in on the act as he lashed a long-range effort beyond Pope and into the corner, before the same player forced an own goal from Kelvin Long for number four. It was turning into a long afternoon for the Clarets.
Pep Guardiola’s reaction then to seeing his team race into a 4-0 lead was pretty telling of the club’s philosophy- benched defender Aymeric Laporte was told to sit tight, while on came Sergio Aguero and Phil Foden in search of a fifth. Clearly, City aren’t in the mood to hang around, and the ruthlessness they displayed today will serve them well as they continue to fight on all four fronts for an unprecedented quadruple.
…with a defensive prowess to match
While City’s attacking contingent will take the plaudits and rightly so, they remained rock solid at the back all afternoon, with Burnley failing to register a single effort on target.
Starting today with a somewhat makeshift back four of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Danilo, the Blues never really looked in danger of conceding, with their rear guard snuffing out Burnley’s rare forays into the City half. Stones was nothing short of majestic in the heart of the City backline, putting in another assured display as he tussled with first Matej Vydra and later Chris Wood, playing the ball out well from the back while ensuring the Burnley frontmen had little to work with. Danilo was dominant aerially, continuing his rich vein of form over the past few weeks, while Walker seemed back to his best, marshalling Robbie Brady expertly.
Offensively too, City’s fullbacks supplemented the attack in contrasting albeit equally effective ways. Walker made numerous lung-bursting runs down the right-hand side, overlapping Bernardo Silva and adding a different, more direct dimension to City’s forward play. Danilo, meanwhile, lacking the blistering pace of Walker, operated efficiently as an underlapping fullback, regularly galloping into midfield to provide the extra man for Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho.
The only blot on the copybook was a rather shaky performance from the usually colossal Otamendi, with the Argentine unsure in the tackle and often wayward in his passing. City’s biggest scare arrived as he took a heavy touch outside his own penalty area, gifting the ball to Vydra, who thankfully for Ederson fired marginally wide. With Otamendi reportedly unhappy with his lack of playing time this season, it will take great improvement from “El General” to break back into this City side.
Returning stars inspire City
With City arguably looking the best they have this season, it’s clear that the return of Kevin De Bruyne from injury and Kyle Walker’s upturn in form have had a huge impact on the side. With the Belgian ace having missed much of the season due to knee injuries, it was always going to take him a while to get back up to speed.
However, De Bruyne showed promising signs in this game, picking up two assists and a goal of his own as he continues to find his range. He caught out Burnley’s high pressing back four repeatedly with clever through balls to Walker and Bernardo Silva, carving out a handful of presentable opportunities for his teammates, while nonchalantly spraying cross-field passes across the Burnley half as he dragged the Clarets out of position. His rocket into the bottom the corner for City’s third proved the cherry on top.
Kyle Walker, meanwhile, who was dropped from the side following poor displays against Crystal Palace and Leicester City, was reinstated into the starting XI and did not disappoint. Continually bombing up and down the right flank to provide the width in the City attack, Walker even snapped a corner flag in half as he attempted to whip a cross in, such was the spirited determination of the former Tottenham Hotspur wingback. With little cover in the right back position as Danilo deputizes at left back, it will come with great relief to Pep that Walker appears to be re-discovering his mojo at the perfect time.
With Benjamin Mendy back fit for City too, the pieces seem to be falling into place for Pep Guardiola’s team, as they gear up for the crunch part of the 2018/19 season.