Come the end of the season Pep Guardiola may reflect on this victory as one to cherish. Manchester City had to dig deep into their reserves here to overcome a spirited and tenacious Burnley who were only denied another home win thanks to two predatory Sergio Aguero goals.
After a midweek trip to Germany and doubts surrounding Aguero’s fitness beforehand, City fought back after Dean Marney’s sublime early volley and held firm to retain their pressure on Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
Their goals were certainly not classics, but Guardiola will not mind. Burnley have made Turf Moor a difficult place to come this year but, while this display was a marked improvement on the capitulation at West Brom, City’s quality just edged the admirable endeavour of Sean Dyche’s men.
Not even the veteran goalkeeper Paul Robinson could keep Aguero out, the Argentinian popping up in the right place at the right time to extend City’s unbeaten league run to six matches.
The first half began with Burnley on top but ended with Dyche’s side hoping for the whistle. City took time to get going on a cold and crisp afternoon, lacking sharpness in defence during the early minutes before their quality told.
Aguero started despite concerns beforehand that a foot injury would keep him out, while Aleksandar Kolarov played alongside Nicolas Otamendi at centre-half in the absence of Vincent Kompany.
That defensive pairing was severely tested in the opening 20 minutes, as the claret shirts pressed, hurried and made the most of their own high defensive line. Robinson made his debut in the Burnley goal, starting in the Premier League for the first time since May 2012, and played a leading role at both ends.
The 37-year-old had already produced a fine low save to deny Aguero in the seventh minute, before an almighty punt upfield resulted in the opening goal. Out of nothing Robinson hoofed deep into the City half, Otamendi half-cleared with a looping header only for Marney to run onto the ball and release a precise volley past Claudio Bravo into the bottom corner.
Burnley had earned their lead, putting both City full-backs under concerted pressure and generally making life uncomfortable for their opponents, but the goal was an unexpected piece of brilliance. It was Marney’s first in the Premier League for 2558 days, since scoring for Hull against Everton in November 2009.
It was the impetus that City needed to spark them into life. Gradually they grew into the game and began to exert a period of dominance, Aguero slicing wide from the edge of the area before Yaya Toure ran free down the right and fired wide of Robinson’s near post.
But they did not wait long for an equaliser. Good work from Raheem Sterling forced a corner and, after a scramble inside the six-yard box, the ball squirmed to Aguero at the far post and he poked into the net from close range.
Both Marney and Johann Gudmundsson were forced off in the closing stages of the first half with injuries, meaning Burnley shuffled their midfield and a makeshift central four including replacements Scott Arfield and James Tarkowski hung on until half-time.
Burnley returned with renewed vigour and a crunching challenge from Ben Mee forced Sterling off injured, but as the England winger hobbled round the touchline in front of the City supporters – with Lero Sane the replacement – Aguero put his side in front.
Again it was a close-range goal, and again Aguero got his positioning just right. In the 60th minute City broke forward down the left, the ball was played centrally and after Toure tumbled to the ground amid half-hearted penalty appeals, Fernandinho hooked back across goal from the touchline and Aguero scrambled it in.
Burnley fought hard as the minutes slipped away, Michael Keane going close only to be denied on the line by Kolarov and Ashley Barnes’ late bicycle kick saved by Bravo, but City’s good form continues.
Burnley (4-4-1-1): Robinson; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Marney (Arfield 40), Defour (Barnes 80), Hendrick, Boyd; Gudmundsson (Tarkowski 43); Vokes.
Subs not used: Pope, Gray, Flanagan, Kightly.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Bravo; Sagna, Otamendi, Kolarov, Clichy; Fernandinho, Fernando; Toure, Sterling (Sane 57), Nolito (De Bruyne 78); Aguero (Navas 89).
Subs not used: Caballero, Zabaleta, Silva, Iheanacho.
Referee: A MarrinerReuse content