The Ped Report City 3-0 Burnley
"It's one thing to beat Stoke City 7-2 on a nice sunny day, but let's see how these South Americans fancy trying to play their calypso football on a cold wet windy day." - They couldn't praise City, could they? Just another snipe at Guardiola's spending power and another snipe saying "This isn't Barcelona, you know."
Well, enter mini-hurricane Brian, enter the said cold, wind and rain and enter Burnley who would not be your opponent of choice in those circumstances. Burnley started the day seventh in the table having inflicted a defeat upon last season's champions, Chelsea and collecting points at Liverpool and Tottenham. You might say they are no mugs, do not respect seniority in the Premier League and are seasoned campaigners in the arena of smash-and-grab spoiling tactics.
And so it looked for a long period at the Etihad on Saturday. A crowded 18 yard line intent on blocking anything that tried to get past, be it ball or footballer, with only Woods upfield as the outball. But it was that outball that almost sprang the smash-and-grab after 15 minutes, which left City exposed and needing Ederson to make a superb sliding save towards the edge of the box.
That Woods had to leave the field injured shortly thereafter was perhaps a significant point in this match as Barnes simply didn't seem to have the presence that Woods has.
Guardiola, perhaps sensing he had called upon the same starting eleven three times on the trot shuffled his pack slightly leaving Sterling and de Jesus on the bench and entering Bernardo Silva for his inaugural full ninety minutes in the Premier League and the ubiquitous Aguero, his ribs apparently mended and hungry for the goals that would install him as City's greatest ever goalscorer.
After 30 minutes of toil, City finally started to put together their moves and find the openings, one of which brought Bernardo to the party and through on goal. Net minder, Pope, tried to emulate Ederson, got his timings wrong and levelled Bernardo. The ball went loose to Sane so he levelled him too.
Referee, Roger East, who always seemed to be pointing in favour of Burnley found himself pointing to the penalty spot and up stepped Aguero, not the greatest exponent of penalty-taking, but on this occasion, with Pope more or less already in one corner, he calmly slid the ball the other way to rewrite City's history books.
Although a sigh of relief slid around the Etihad like the scores on the level two ribbon, incidentally showing that the Stretfords were losing at Huddersfield, City were still unable to feel comfortable as Burnley reorganised themselves within their 4-5-1 formation, intent on staying in the game at least until half-time.
And they seemed to do this quite easily as City could not capitalise on anything. A series of poor decisions at key times, coupled with various blocks plus a decent couple of saves by Pope notably from Bernardo and Aguero, ensured that the teams went in only one goal apart at the break.
Dyche's half-time team talk clearly included instructions for Burnley to counter-press the City press, probably as a result of watching Napoli execute the same tactics on Tuesday and to some extent, the Clarets had some success with this. On more than one occasion the City cover looked a bit ragged and it was left to the excellent and maturing Stones to keep tabs on things. He, Otamendi and Fernandinho at times worked hard to maintain order especially as Burnley deployed 3 v 2 against Walker and De Bruyne forcing City back down that route. This meant that De Bruyne's starting position was often deep and Walker didn't raid as much as Guardiola would have liked. Having said that, City were simply happy to keep the ball. If Burnley didn't want to seek an equaliser, City would keep it on half-way or even deeper.
But the Clarets wanted to maintain their proud record of going toe-to-toe with the league's big boys. Their approach play was often good but they had no real firepower and although it seemed to take forever, City finally put more daylight between the teams from an unlikely source on 73 minutes.
Up to this point De Bruyne was finally seeing more of the ball and the threat on the Burnley goal had been escalating. The link up play with Walker, largely absent in the first half was starting to hit full throttle when Pope made a decent save from David Silva. From the resultant corner Otamendi outjumped City old-boy Mee to steer a powerful header home, although one suspects the Burnley defender on the post, Defour, might have done better.
City have become almost synonymous with getting two goals close together to put matches to bed and they did it again today. De Bruyne was once again the sculptor with a trade-mark curling pass behind Burnley's defence and straight into the path of the onrushing Sane.
The German's decision-making today had been a little obtuse, but this time his moment arrived. He pushed the ball forward one and then unleashed an unstoppable shot inside the far post. City were effectively now out of sight and although there was still time for Sane to greedily have a shot when substitute de Jesus was better placed, the game was up for the Clarets who had acquitted themselves reasonably well against the runaway train that is Manchester City right now.
And with the news filtering through that Huddersfield had beaten the Stretfords, City were now sitting five point clear at the head of the table.
In reality, the Blues deserve this early season dominance. The Stretfords have played only Liverpool out of the top clubs and effectively waved the white flag in that game. They won't have fancied a blustery day in the Pennines and clearly didn't.
But at Planet Etihad the world moves on. Matches against Burnley have generally been low-scoring affairs, but City showed a different kind of steel today. They at times had no choice other than to dig in. But when the chances came there was a confidence about the Blues which said "We shall overcome" and that is what they did.
Fernandinho was once again immense in this victory and he in many ways is proving to be the key, a sort of Gareth Barry with a better footballing brain. It was good to see Bernardo get a full match under his belt. He looked a bit fish-out-of-waterish out on the right but he has a series of tricks which will see him given many chances to unlock the stubborn defences of the Premier League.
David Silva, De Bruyne, (when he got going) and Stones all put in big shifts as the Blues now look forward to a League Cup interlude against Wolverhampton (give us a W) before returning to the Black Country next weekend for another debacle at the Hawthorns.