Pep Guardiola rose from his seat the moment the ball hit the net and stormed up the stairs to the seats behind the Manchester City dugout where Carlos Vicens sat among his other backroom staff.
Burnley had just been knocked out by a free-kick straight from the training pitch en route to another ugly battle at the Etihad Stadium and Guardiola was keen to pay public tribute to his set-piece specialist.
Vicens looked slightly embarrassed as the City manager threw his arms around his neck. He will know that it is much easier to achieve such ingenuity when there are players like Kevin De Bruyne and Julián Alvarez to carry out his instructions, but these things still require an architect and he should have been proud of his hand in a beautiful piece of well. theater rehearsed.
It’s safe to assume that Burnley expected De Bruyne to fire in an aerial ball and the City midfielder, a master of disguise, was certainly more than happy to give the opposition that impression, raising his hand to signal as much to indicate as he seemed. at the crowd of bodies beyond.
Of course, De Bruyne and City had formulated a very different plan and Alvarez knew that as long as he timed his run correctly, his captain would find him with one of those trademark, perfectly weighted passes.
No matter how many times they practiced the routine on the training field, it was still a fascinating sight to see it reflected in a match. Guardiola’s celebration spoke to that.
Alvarez’s run over Vitinho and behind an equally unsuspecting Wilson Odobert was as stealth-like as De Bruyne’s vertical, low, driven 20-yard pass that found him. All it took then was a deft finish into the corner ahead of the advancing James Trafford, and Alvarez also made it look easy when it was anything but.
And so the year-old, who turned 24 that day, scored his second goal in six minutes as Burnley stared down the barrel of another hideout in east Manchester and City’s Premier League title rivals shuddered at the prospect of De Bruyne would look better and better. and Erling Haaland returns to raise the threat level even further.
Such was the attention surrounding Haaland’s return to the squad after almost two months away with a foot injury that it was easy to forget that John Stones had also returned for his first appearance since Christmas.
City were 3-0 up and took the lead, with Rodri adding the third after Burnley were hopelessly bowled out just 25 seconds into the second half when Haaland was introduced with 20 minutes to go. It was not what Burnley, who are surely destined for a swift return to the Championship, or Liverpool, Arsenal and the rest of those with title aspirations, would have particularly wanted to see.
City had won nine and drawn one of the 10 games Haaland missed, so it’s fair to say that last season’s Treble winners have done quite well in the Norwegian striker’s absence. But it could come in handy in the coming months if he had another guy at his disposal who plundered 52 goals last season, and his introduction was received with delight by the City fans.
Burnley have now conceded 31 goals in seven visits to the Etihad and there was never going to be any doubt about the outcome of this result once Alvarez had doubled City’s lead. His first was a bit more prosaic. Matheus Nunes had shown good pace on the right and was able to run onto Phil Foden’s through ball. Nunes’ first attempt at a cross was blocked, but his second saw the ball fall neatly onto the head of Alvarez, who could not miss.
City’s sumptuous free-kick for the second gave De Bruyne his 104th Premier League assist, moving him ahead of Wayne Rooney and behind only Ryan Giggs and Cesc Fabregas in the all-time rankings. And the Belgian was also involved in City’s third goal, releasing Foden from behind for the England midfielder to pull the ball back for Rodri to curl home a shot from the D.
Burnley did score a goal in injury time when substitute David Fofana rounded Josko Gvardiol and crossed the line ahead of Ameen Al-Dakhil, but it was little consolation against a team five steps ahead in every respect.
Manchester City must be clear in a five-horse race for the title – Guardiola
Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City are in a five-horse title race and need to be flawless to complete their historic fourth consecutive Premier League.
City defeated Burnley 3-1 to remain five points behind Liverpool. The form of Jurgen Klopp and Arsenal’s team means Guardiola will demand perfection over the next four months.
Julián Alvarez’s double on his 24th birthday and Rodri’s goal made it a comfortable evening for City, with Ameen Al-Dakhil coming on for Burnley. Guardiola says his players will give their best under pressure from their rivals.
“The most important thing is that we are there,” Guardiola said. “I now know that there were a lot of games in the first part of the season, now we are counting down and we know what happens if we drop points with the quality that Arsenal and Liverpool have.
“They want that pressure to be active. When we’re up against those teams, I don’t have the feeling I had in the past. When we won a lot of games in a row, we had the feeling that Liverpool would not drop any points.
“Now we see them winning comfortably, so we have to be ready. The players know it. We push each other and until the end we will try to do the same. I would say the mentality is there. I have no doubt about it, but if we lose a game, people might say we don’t have the right mentality, as I have heard this season. It’s not that.
“It’s not just three. Tottenham and Aston Villa are still there. When I watch Arsenal play, I feel like they control many aspects of the game. When you see Liverpool, they are better than the opponent every game. You can lose games, but they are better. I know how strong they are, but here we are.”
City’s second goal came from a set-piece in which Kevin De Bruyne surprised Burnley’s defense by slipping through Alvarez when most were expecting a shot. Guardiola walked into the dugout to congratulate coach Carlos Vicens.
“Today set pieces are very important,” Guardiola said. “We won the FA Cup against Spurs from a corner and today against Carlos and Jack [Wilson, City analyst]) prepared. I’m not involved in set pieces because the others are better and I don’t have time and we’re preparing things and corners.
“Like any team. It’s not that we’re different from other teams, but we prepared this free kick and it worked. Kevin had to make the perfect pass and Julian had to make the move. Someone had the idea to do this, so credit to Carlos and Jack.”
Erling Haaland made his return after seven weeks away with a broken foot, with Guardiola adding: “If it had been 7-0 at half-time today, he would have played more minutes. If it had been 0-0, he might not have played a minute. I saw him clearly, the feeling that he was there. Except for Jérémy, he didn’t get any clear opportunities [Doku] didn’t see him when he could score. It has been very good the last two months without him, but with him we are a better team and we are very happy to have him back.
Burnley striker Manuel Benson could leave the club on deadline day after being left out of the matchday squad, with Hull, Southampton and Leeds United interested in signing him during the window.
“There were rumors that he would go out on loan. It is normal that he wants to play and we will see how it works out,” said Burnley manager Vincent Kompany, who will be hoping for an active final day of the period.
“I hope something happens for us tomorrow. We are at the stage of the season where we have to rely on the boys in the squad. You can make miracle transfers, but they are difficult to find.”