Substitute Sergio Aguero proved Manchester City’s hero as they overcame Burnley in a tense 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium, despite playing almost an hour with 10 men.
The Argentinian striker – surprisingly dropped to the bench for City’s second game in 48 hours after their 1-0 defeat to Liverpool – was introduced as a second-half replacement for Kelechi Iheanacho and subsequently proved the match-winner, after stand-in captain Fernandinho had been sent off.
The Brazilian jumped in with a two-footed scissor motion to challenge Johann Berg Gudmundsson in the 32nd minute and, despite appearing to get a touch on the ball, was shown a straight red by referee Lee Mason.
City kept their cool, though, and two goals in the space of four minutes from Gael Clichy and Aguero got their title bid back on track – much to the clear relief of Pep Guardiola.
Burnley set up a tense finale when Ben Mee fired home after a goalmouth scramble, but City held on for a win that sends them up to third, though Arsenal and Tottenham could yet displace them when they play on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Defeat at Anfield on Saturday had left City 10 points adrift of Premier League leaders Chelsea, meaning Guardiola’s side could ill afford anything other than three points.
City controlled the first half but were wasteful for long spells.
Iheanacho – named ahead of Aguero after the Argentina man failed to touch the ball in the opposition penalty area against Liverpool – had an opportunity to repay Guardiola’s faith in the seventh minute following an error from Mee, but Tom Heaton raced off his line to deny the striker and then Raheem Sterling on the follow-up.
Iheanacho had another attempt deflected wide before the busy Heaton got down to his left to turn a curling 18-yard effort from Yaya Toure behind.
Jesus Navas, picked ahead of David Silva as one of four city changes, struggled to provide quality deliveries from the right and when one of his crosses ricocheted to the feet of Iheanacho, the Nigeria international was unable to get his shot away.
City’s task was made harder when Mason judged Fernandinho’s lunging, two-footed challenge on Gudmundsson to be worthy of a red card – the Brazilian’s third in his last six outings in all competitions.
3 – Fernandinho has been red carded in three of his last six games for Manchester City (all comps). Mist.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 2 January 2017
Guardiola urged the home faithful to get behind their team as he returned to the dugout for the second half, and he gave them something to cheer about when he replaced Iheanacho and Navas with Aguero and Silva.
City maintained a composed, measured approach and, after Stephen Ward had produced an excellent tackle to deny Aguero a glorious shooting opportunity, they finally made the breakthrough after 58 minutes.
Clichy shifted the ball away from Scott Arfield and drilled a brilliant right-footed finish across Heaton and into the bottom corner.
Four minutes later, City doubled their lead. Heaton rushed out and blocked Sterling, who tripped as he looked to round the goalkeeper, but the loose ball was sent into the back of the net with the aid of the post from an acute angle by Aguero.
Burnley managed to pull one back with 20 minutes remaining when Claudio Bravo failed to deal with Michael Keane’s near-post flick-on from a corner and Mee slammed home the rebound off the underside of the crossbar.
In the aftermath, Bacary Sagna was only shown a yellow card despite appearing to kick out at George Boyd as he attempted to take the ball back to the centre spot.
Substitute Sam Vokes’ mishit volley was tipped behind by a backpedalling Bravo in stoppage time, as City saw out the win to spark animated celebrations on the bench from Guardiola at the final whistle.
Key Opta Facts:
– Sergio Aguero scored as a substitute for the first time in the Premier League since August 2014 v Liverpool
– Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in nine Premier League goals for Man City this season (five goals, four assists), compared to eight in his first season at the club
– Fernandinho is the first City player to see two reds in a Premier League season since Mario Balotelli in 2011-12
– Gael Clichy scored just his third Premier League goal in 311 games (two for Man City, one for Arsenal). His last goal came in November 2014 v Southampton
– Man City have only kept a clean sheet in two of their 10 Premier League games at the Etihad this season
– Burnley’s goal was only the third they had managed away from home this season
– The Clarets have still taken just one point from their away games this season, with 22 of their total of 23 coming at Turf Moor (D1 L8 away)
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