Sunday 18 March 2018

City get away with taking their eye off the ball

Burnley 1 Manchester City 2

Burnley's Ashley Barnes battle for the ball with Manchester City's Fernando durng the match at Tuirf Moor. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Burnley's Ashley Barnes battle for the ball with Manchester City's Fernando durng the match at Tuirf Moor. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Paul Wilson

If Manchester City are supposed to be concentrating their resources on returning to the top of the Premier League after securing Champions League progress, they went an odd way about it here, resting John Stones and leaving David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne on the bench. Nonetheless, two goals from Sergio Agüero meant they came from behind to beat Burnley.

Perhaps City were encouraged by the knowledge a calf injury had ruled out Tom Heaton, something of a lucky talisman for Burnley this season, at least the way José Mourinho tells it. The home fans were not exactly thrilled at the news that the 37-year-old Paul Robinson would be making his Burnley debut in goal after two years without a league game, though in the event the former Blackburn and England goalkeeper took up where Heaton had left off, making a couple of first-half saves from Agüero.

Sergio Agüero celebrates scoring City’s winner
Sergio Agüero celebrates scoring City’s winner

He even provided an assist for Burnley's opener. The hosts sent everyone forward for a free-kick that the goalkeeper clipped into the goalmouth and when the ball was only half cleared, Dean Marney pounced on it gratefully to score with a volley from the edge of the area.

If City needed a wake-up call, and a generally flat first half-display suggested that they did, Marney provided it before being forced off through injury. The only worry for Burnley, apart from the fact that Johann Gudmundsson also pulled a hamstring and followed Marney down the tunnel before half time, was that City still had over an hour to get their act together and respond.

Burnley's Jeff Hendrick in action. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Burnley's Jeff Hendrick in action. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

It took them a while - this was far from City at their slick and smooth-passing best - but shortly after Yaya Touré had hit the woodwork, Raheem Sterling and Nolito forced Michael Keane to concede a corner and with the ball bobbling scruffily around the six-yard box Agüero was able to poke home an equaliser.

Agüero brought a fingertip save from Robinson, and then he and Sterling and Agüero messed up a glaring chance when they could virtually have passed the ball into the net but were far too casual in finding each other.

City kept up the pressure in the second half, forcing Burnley ever deeper in defence, and there was little surprise when Agüero gave the visitors the lead on the hour. An move appeared to have broken down when Touré was upended after a surging run, but rather than pressing claims for a penalty City heeded the referee's instruction to play on and, after Fernandinho had chased down the ball to cross from the narrowest of angles, Agüero made sure he was in place to supply the required touch in front of goal.

The match became a little fractious in the final quarter, with Nolito cautioned for bumping into Scott Arfield and eventually withdrawn before he did anything more serious, although his offence was nothing compared to the high challenge George Boyd got away with on Bacary Sagna moments later.

Though Burnley had their moments as they tried to salvage a point, most notably in stoppage time when Claudio Bravo saved from Ashley Barnes and Keane almost got his head to a cross the goalkeeper fumbled, City held on for the win. Not one of their most impressive, perhaps, yet a better result than Everton and Liverpool have achieved at Turf Moor this season and a considerable improvement on the defeat Manuel Pellegrini's side suffered here two years ago. (Observer)

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