Manchester City had won the previous 10 matches against Burnley with an aggregate score of 34-1. All of those games took place against sides managed by Sean Dyche, a very different style of team to the one created by Vincent Kompany but, six goals later, some things never change. The Belgian has turned the Clarets from a dour but efficient team to being exciting and free-wheeling but the reality of what he faces next season became apparent on Saturday night.
Promotion is essentially guaranteed, it would take an almighty demise to give up their 16-point lead on third with a game in hand in the final two months of the season. Their dominance in the league allowed Kompany to pick an almost full-strength team at the Etihad. The fans welcomed him back by serenading their former captain but this was a business event for Kompany.
Unfortunately for Burnley and their manager, hat-trick hobbyist Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne are a few cuts above their usual opponents. The visitors offered the same intensity to what they have given in their 37 league games early on but quickly found out that they needed more than workrate and clever positional play to keep City at bay.
Burnley have scored at a rate of two a game in the Championship, while having the best defence but that counted for nothing. City are liable to a mistake when passing around at the back and the constant pressure of the Burnley forward line ensured they made errors, gifting openings to the Clarets, but they were unable to take advantage when their few opportunities arose.
Stalwarts of the Dyche era, Ashley Barnes, Jack Cork and Charlie Taylor might have been having flashbacks to their Premier League days from the bench as they watched City enjoy 80% possession in the first 15 minutes. Burnley are used to having the majority of the ball but Kompany knew that would not be possible against the Premier League champions and is intelligent enough to realise a gung-ho attitude would have left them too open against an elite side, deciding to go man to man on City to try to contain them.
City were unable to break down Burnley with ease early on, resulting in Pep Guardiola calling Haaland over in the 24th minute for a chat on the sideline to provide instructions and a tweak of his role to be on the last man, having played deeper at times in the opening quarter. It paid dividends when Julián Álvarez sent the ball through for Haaland to poke home the first and he added a second thanks to a pinpoint Phil Foden cross. These are harsh lessons of coming up against one of the best sides in Europe. City made the most of being given space for a split second, with Álvarez and Foden able to utilise it without a second thought and Burnley unable to react.
It was a chance for Kompany to show that Burnley could make the step up. When they come up there will be more games like this and they need to accept their role as underdogs. At half time both sides had accumulated five shots, with Burnley having more on target, but City had taken their two chances to show the difference in the final third. By full time, City had quadrupled their number of shots, while Burnley had a solitary effort after the break as the gulf in class became blatantly apparent.
City’s dominance began to show more in the second half when Burnley paid for their exertions by conceding further goals. The hosts were permitted more space in which to operate and they were more than happy to utilise it. Being able to produce Kompany’s high-tempo in the Premier League for 90 minutes, 38 times in succession, will be difficult. He will improve the squad in the summer but may need to adopt a more pragmatic approach against the elite.
The loss was a brutal realisation for Kompany after an almost flawless season but he knows it is a learning curve for him and his players. He spent his final years at City learning from Guardiola and was taught another valuable lesson in defeat. Kompany has five months to plot for the top flight but that might not be long enough to come up with a plan to stop Haaland and City.
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