Manchester City made hard work of a 2-0 Premier League win against Burnley at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, remaining just a point behind Liverpool.
City had won each of their previous four home games against Burnley 5-0 but this time settled simply for taking three points from a slightly sloppy display.
Coming out of an international break without some key men – and having seen Liverpool thrash Watford earlier in the day – the result was all that mattered.
Bernardo Silva’s 12th-minute strike initially hinted at a rather more straightforward affair for the champions, though it was left to Kevin De Bruyne to belatedly make the game safe.
City’s two best players from their previous game against leaders Liverpool were both involved in the opener, as Silva picked out Phil Foden just inside the box and was then on hand to slam into the net when Nick Pope could only parry the England international’s low shot.
However, the home side’s unfamiliar back four – missing Ruben Dias and Kyle Walker – afforded opportunities to Burnley, who had Maxwel Cornet shoot too close to Zack Steffen after fine work from Dwight McNeil before Josh Brownhill whipped a low effort wide.
Riyad Mahrez blasted against the crossbar shortly after the break, but frustration built among the home supporters as City again struggled to build on a strong start to the half.
The mood lifted with 20 minutes to play when Ashley Westwood failed to clear and Mahrez toed the ball into the path of De Bruyne for a thumping left-footed finish.
Chris Wood clipped the crossbar from close range when he could have set up a nervy finish, although the forward might have been offside as he met Nathan Collins’ knockdown.
What does it mean? City slow again at home
City played well in successive away games against Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool heading into the international break, although they only earned four points across the Premier League and Champions League from those fixtures.
That would be a handy enough return if City are able to take care of business against the lesser lights, yet this was another unconvincing home display.
Pep Guardiola’s men at least won, unlike in their previous league game at the Etihad Stadium against Southampton, but they would have expected an easier ride against a team had defeated 30-1 on aggregate across their previous eight meetings.
Silva is playing in the heart of the midfield this season but that did not prevent him being City’s chief attacking threat. His goal came from one of three shots, while he also created three chances for team-mates.
The talk in the build-up to this game centred on Raheem Sterling, who spoke openly about the possibility of leaving City. Having been a top performer in previous seasons, the winger started only twice across the first seven league games of the campaign.
But Sterling was back in the XI on Saturday, handed a central striking role with Jack Grealish dropped to the bench and Gabriel Jesus only just returning from international duty.
This was not the sort of performance that is likely to convince Guardiola to give him a prominent role, though. Sterling’s only shot was blocked.
Key Opta Facts
9 – Manchester City have won each of their last nine games against Burnley across all competitions by an aggregate scoreline of 32-1. Exhibition.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 16, 2021
– Burnley are winless in their past 11 league games (D3 L8), the longest ongoing run without a win in the top four tiers of English football.
– City have kept six clean sheets from eight Premier League games this season – more than any other side.
– Silva has been directly involved in more Premier League goals against Burnley than against any other opponent (seven in eight appearances – two goals, five assists).
– De Bruyne has scored in consecutive Premier League appearances in a single season for the first time since July 2020.
City are back in Champions League action against Club Brugge on Tuesday, while Burnley’s wait for a first Premier League win of the season takes them to Southampton next Saturday.
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