A little nudge, just to let him know he’s there. Erling Haaland is back but the young pretender, who happens to be six months older, made his point.
Julian Alvarez will score goals. Not as many as Haaland, granted, but a sizeable number nonetheless. These were numbers 14 and 15 for the season.
A reminder to Pep Guardiola, if one were required, yet someone of Haaland’s standing brushes those off. Alvarez could’ve finished with a double hat-trick on his 24th birthday and the natural order of things would still be restored once the Norwegian is fully up to speed following a foot injury that presented more complications than first envisaged.
The trick for Alvarez is not attempting to outdo Haaland but make himself indispensable ahead of those who work in Haaland’s shadow. The trouble is, those include Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden. Tough gig.
The two strikers were actually together once Haaland emerged, with 20 minutes left and almost two months since he last featured. With one air kick and a mistimed header, Haaland was saving his big contributions for the important nights – plenty of which are on the horizon. City approach those with a fully-fit squad for the first time and the way Liverpool are going, this could well be another nailbiter.
Manchester City secured a comfortable 3-1 victory over Burnley at the Etihad on Wednesday
Erling Haaland made his long-awaited return from injury as he came off the bench in the second half
Man City striker Julian Alvarez opened the scoring with a bullet header in the 16th minute
‘Everybody knows the Liverpool we’ve faced,’ Guardiola said. ‘We are there, that’s the important thing. Needing to win makes you active. When we won lots of games in a row, we had the feeling that Liverpool wouldn’t drop points. We have that feeling now. We push each other every time.’
Guardiola felt comfortable leaving a few out against Burnley, including Kyle Walker who, when he’s not taking a match to his homelife, occasionally plays a bit of football. Not last night, De Bruyne wearing the armband as the appointed captain sat on the bench.
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
Man City (4-2-3-1): Ederson 6.5; Lewis 6.5, Stones 7, Ake 7, Gvardiol 7.5; Rodri 7.5 (Kovacic 87), Nunes 8; Foden 8 (Grealish 77), De Bruyne 9 (Haaland 71, 6), Doku 7; Alvarez 8.5 (Gomez 87)
Subs not used: Ortega, Walker, Dias, Silva, Bobb
Manager: Pep Guardiola 7
Burnley (4-4-2): Trafford 5.5; Vitinho 4.5, O'Shea 6, Ekdal 6 (Massengo 86), Al Dakhil 6.5; Gudmundsson 6 (Ramsey 59, 6), Berge 6, Brownhill 5.5, Odobert 5; Foster 5 (Fofana 59), Amdouni 6 (Roberts 59)
Subs not used: Muric, Cork, Zaroury, Cullen, Bruun Larsen
Manager: Vincent Kompany 5
Referee: Sam Barrott 6
Walker’s absence will have been a decision made with rest in mind, rather than a reaction to yet more revelations about the full back’s private life. He’d produced one of his better performances of the season during the late FA Cup win at Tottenham, days after his latest adultery surfaced. Throughout the various public embarrassments, his form has remained fairly high.
He’s been talking up a repeat of the Treble in recent days, too, and while there is a long way to go until that becomes anywhere near relevant.
De Bruyne wasted no time in adding to his collection of goal contributions in the league this season with a clever assist after just 22 minutes. Sliding a quick free kick to Alvarez, who arced his run round the Burnley back line and then dinked past James Trafford, whose return to the Etihad Stadium was appearing an unhappy one.
Guardiola went to congratulate his set piece coach, Carlos Vicens, who ran through the routine during Tuesday’s training session. ‘I didn’t really want to do it,’ admitted De Bruyne. Good job he did.
Trafford had already seen Alvarez poach his first six minutes earlier. Josko Gvardiol deserves some credit for that, negotiating a way through midfield as City struggled to pick past Burnley’s press, and once Foden had clipped Matheus Nunes clear the champions were in business.
The crowd behind Nunes begged him to pull back for De Bruyne but the Portuguese – who had been their brightest spark early on – had other ideas, waiting for Alvarez’s run and presented a cross perfect to head in. Gvardiol, who appeared more confident than in any of his appearances since costing £77million from RB Leipzig, later flashed wide.
Matheus Nunes starred with powerful runs through midfield as City impressed against Burnley
ALvarez scored his second goal of the game following a well-worked free-kick move
Lyle Foster had Burnley's best chances but struggled to find the target against City
It rather summed Burnley’s campaign up. Started well enough, had a few moments as Lyle Foster just missed the far post, but were undone by simplicity. Vincent Kompany wore a look of resignation.
Kompany had labelled De Bruyne a ‘cyborg’ before this and his former Belgium team mate, making a first start since the opening night at Turf Moor and that nasty hamstring tear, was on another mission. At the point of laying on for Alvarez, he had a goal and two assists in 66 minutes of league football. Not a bad ratio.
Even when not directly involved, the old veteran was running things at his own pace. Burnley’s appealing high line pierced by the master, Foden galloping beyond Hjalmar Ekdal and unselfishly pulling back for Rodri on the edge of the box. In a similar move to that in Istanbul, Rodri swept into the near post. If the game was not already done, they’d made sure of it 24 seconds after the break.
Haaland struggled to make an impact but showed signs of promise in his first match back from injury
Clarets manager Vincent Kompany applauded Burnley supporters at full time
It was only ever going to be about how many City fancied scoring during a damaging midweek for Kompany, Luton Town’s unexpected exploits squeezing their perilous even tighter, now seven points adrift of the team who snatched a draw from them last time out. While this was always a hiding to nothing, something has to quickly change, Ameen Al-Dakhil’s late consolation altering nothing.
‘I don’t have reason not to believe in this team,’ Kompany said. ‘It’s about seizing our moments. But we’re playing against a team that exploits every mistake.’
Haaland actually struggled to make a meaningful impact after he’d floored Dara O’Shea within seconds of his introduction, trying intelligent runs without the service. Doku was particularly wasteful when he danced through challenges only to attempt a difficult pass for Nunes rather than laying straight to the No 9. Haaland tutted.
Tutted at himself as well with the air kick inside Burnley’s box, prompting laughter on the bench by Mateo Kovacic and Bernardo Silva. A safe bet that neither sniggered to his face in the dressing room.
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