Such are the fine margins of this Premier League title race that it was perhaps appropriate that the precious strike that took Manchester City back to the top of the table only just crossed the goal-line. It was a matter of millimetres – 29.51mm, to be precise, or just over an inch. And it inched City closer.
Sergio Aguero’s sharp effort was given by goal-line technology with referee Paul Tierney’s wristwatch buzzing in confirmation as the striker and his team-mates desperately appealed that the ball was in before being hooked clear by Burnley defender Matthew Lowton.
It was. But only just. Aguero had shown his strength and determination to reach Bernardo Silva’s in-swinging cross to hold off James Tarkowski on the edge of the six-yard area to finally beat goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Aguero’s shot was chested up by Lowton as he got his body in the way but the ball span back over the line before the right-back volleyed it out. Aguero puffed his cheeks in relief as Tierney indicated goal.
The win took City back ahead of Liverpool by, again, the smallest of margins, a single point, with these two extraordinary teams now having just two matches to play. There is a 21-point gap to third-placed Tottenham Hotspur while City have achieved a stunning sequence of 12 wins in a row in the league since losing to Newcastle United in January and, yet, are only that point in front.
The nature of City’s goal will also have had Liverpool fans thinking back to the meeting between the two at the turn of the year, before that fixture. It remains the only defeat Liverpool have suffered in the league and there was another vital involvement then by goal-line technology as it showed that John Stones’s spectacular clearance was made before the whole of the ball had crossed the line.
Those acrobatics prevented an own goal, which would have opened the scoring. The margin was 11mm. And on such tiny measures this title race could be settled. Talk about marginal gains.
Stones was on the pitch at the end here, as was Nicolas Otamendi, with City having no fewer than four centre-halves in their team, taking off attacking players, as they held out. “It is a compliment that I saw and heard Pep Guardiola say ‘get it in the corner’,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche later said but while his team made it tough for City they were held at arm’s length. Burnley did not even win a corner.
It was Dry Turf Moor, not just Turf Moor, with Guardiola highlighting the fact that the pitch had not been watered and the grass was left long which inevitably slowed down City’s passing game. But Guardiola also stressed that Burnley, who were superbly marshalled by centre-half Ben Mee, were perfectly within their rights, to do this. And it was to Burnley’s credit, given there was little at stake for them, that they were so cussed, so organised and determined and they made it so hard for Guardiola’s side.
City have eight days to prepare for the visit of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City – can the former Liverpool manager do them a favour? – and are away to Brighton on the final weekend. For Liverpool it is away to Newcastle, at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, with the added imponderable of an epic Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in the next two midweeks to break that up. Will that have an effect?
Without goal-line technology City may well not have won this but without further technology, the video assistant referee, they will argue they would also be preparing for a Champions League semi-final after Raheem Sterling’s injury-time effort was ruled out against Spurs.
Dyche talked about making it “awkward” and “like a cup tie” for City and Burnley did just that but the truth is, after a stodgy first-half, the champions created three or four good chances and probably should have had a penalty before they scored when Ashley Barnes escaped an apparent hand-ball as he leaned into a goal-bound shot by Bernardo.
Aguero’s goal settled it and meant it is five seasons in a row that the striker has scored 20 league goals, or more, with only Thierry Henry, with Arsenal, have achieved that feat previously.
In the first-half the best chance actually fell to Burnley’s Chris Wood but his touch inside the City area when he appeared to be clear was heavy, allowing Ederson to hurtle from goal and bravely smother. Meanwhile City struggled – summed up when Leroy Sane was ironically cheered by the Burnley fans for remonstrating with Aguero after another over-hit pass – although there was inevitably far greater urgency after the break.
City began to exert far more control; pushing Burnley ever deeper and as well as Dyche’s side did in blocking, tackling, throwing their bodies in the way the pressure was growing and growing and Heaton was forced into a series of saves.
Firstly the goalkeeper beat away a fierce drive from Aguero at his near post, then he held onto a header by Aymeric Laporte, who should have done better, while he excelled in standing up to another powerful shot from inside the area, this time from Bernardo.
There was the penalty appeal and Aguero’s goal before Mee made an incredible clearance after substitute Gabriel Jesus rounded Lowton and Heaton and appeared certain to score. Mee threw himself to force the ball away and, this time, it had not crossed.
Guardiola understandably became increasingly agitated and first turned to Stones and when Burnley won a free-kick close to the City goal in injury-time he hurried Otamendi on also while the sight of Bernardo, twice, booting the ball up-field to no-one showed how fraught it was. The stakes are so high, the margins so tight, that even the most skilful of players was reduced to the most basic of approaches rather than trying to keep possession.
City did this also without Kevin De Bruyne, without Fernandinho, both injured, and that added to the tension. “I was trembling,” Guardiola said even if he and his team held their nerve there will be might relief that this visit has been successfully negotiated.
90 mins +4 – Burnley 0 Man City 1
It’s chipped in, Stones heads away, Taylor looks to shoot but disguises the pass instead and City are abler to get the ball away. Heaton is 40 yards off his line to help out, Burnley hurry it up to try and get the ball in play. Silva chases a bouncing ball and takes a knee to the hip, milks it for all he can and rolls around the ground for a bit. That’ll take a bit of time out the game. City should be clear now!
90 mins +2 – Burnley 0 Man City 1
- Sergio Aguero is only the second player in premierleague history to score 20+ goals in five consecutive campaigns, after Thierry Henry between 2001-02 and 2005-06.
But don’t write that down to take to the pub yet… Burnley have a free-kick exactly where they want it. 40 yards from goal, just off-centre. The centre-backs go forward, Kompany organises the line. City sub on Otamendi before they can take it and take off Sterling. Never make a change before a set piece! Might this jinx it?
90 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 1
Sterling and Lowton have a bit of an argument about nothing special, Lowton needs to be careful after picking up a booking moments earlier. The Burnley crowd are urging the team on but City are the ones happy to defend and clear their lines for now. A poor ball into the area from Taylor gives Ederson a chance to waste some time.
85 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 1
Burnley have had one shot on target. City have had 18.
There’s nothing wrong with Burnley’s approach, it’s worked really well but look at the total domination of the pitch here. City have had the ball everywhere, Burnley have mostly touched it inside their own penalty area.
Aguero keeps finding space in the final third but his shots from distance are being blocked. Burnley throwing bodies in the way.
76 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 1
What a touch by Jesus! Oh my god he’s killed that dead while running at pace inside from a wide position, beaten the defender, gone round the goalkeeper and SHOOOOOTS. It’s blocked on the line! This time it’s cleared before the ball crosses the line and Burnley survive.
70 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 1
Sane was taken off for Jesus a few minutes ago, that got lost in the madness of that goal. Burnley have opened up a bit now as they search for a way back into the game… even though it really doesn’t matter. If they’d shown this kind of determination at the start of the season they might not have been fighting relegation the entire time.
MAN CITY GO NUTS! AGUERO HAS SCORED!
Burnley 0 Man City 1
It’s the same routine from City. Wide, wide, ball forced into the area but this time Aguero is able to control and gets a shot away. It’s cleared off the line! But the technology has saved City – that’s a goal.
61 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
City’s deepest player is 10 yards ahead of the centre-circle at times.
Sterling tries to run through bodies and into the area, takes it round one challenge but can’t skip the last one, losing out to a slide tackle from Lowton. Lowton might have jarred his knee making that challenge and is receiving treatment now.
58 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
City working on the edge of the area, moving the ball, trying to find space, shifting it from side to side and then whipping in low crosses to the area. Burnley defenders are in position to kick the ball away, City have to start again and Burnley step up to force the ball wide.
City keep coming! Burnley are defending with 20 men inside the box, Sterling, Sane, Aguero all try to turn and shoot but can’t through the masses of bodies, Burnley boot the thing away and City have to chase.
53 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
On replays it’s a clear penalty. That handball moment is an obvious one – Barnes dips down and leans in to block the shot, it comes off his arm and City should have had a penalty.
City are still looking for a way past this Burnley defence. Overlaps on both sides, the ball is going to be drilled in low – NO, it’s cut back! Silva can score here! His shot is tame and blocked, it bounces wide and Bernardo can shoot. He must score! SAVED! Walker bursts to life on the right wing and fires a low ball across the area but it’s behind.
There’s more urgency about City at the moment.
50 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Aguero goes on a forward run as he drops into a deeper starting position and then gets in beyond Sterling… he SHOOTS! Saved at the near post! City keep coming… this is much better and Burnley have some work to do. A shot into the area hits Barnes in the chest or arm but it’d be mega harsh to penalise him for it.
City need to move the ball more quickly
City are pushed right to the halfway line and are stretching the pitch to try and open up spaces for forward passes. Burnley aren’t buying it, are sitting deep and putting up that block of eight to make sure the ball goes wide and is then sent into the area – the few times City have managed to get a player on the ball in the box it’s got stuck in the turf and the chances has gone. City need more of that quick one-touch passing that confuses a defence and opens up opportunities to shoot – they’re approaching it a little too cautiously at the moment.
One weird approach might be trying to encourage Burnley to attack more then hitting them on the counter. I get the feeling Dyche is way too switched on for that to work.
36 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Burnley use the high press from a City goalkick but Guardiola’s players are too good and able to pass their way beyond it and get going. Zinchenko ends up wide left but his cross beats everyone, its kept alive though Burnley try to clear, City have a million players in and around the box ready to win it back. Sterling miscontrols and Barnes robs him… Sterling commits one of those tactical fouls that Man City definitely don’t make.
34 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
BIG CHANCE FOR CITY! But Silva takes too long! More nice passing, Sterling overlaps and as defenders and forwards move forward, Silva stands still. He has yards of space on the penalty spot but when able to dig the ball out of his feet ends up smacking it at the goalkeeper.
City keep up the pressure, a ball over the top to Aguero from Gundogan puts the striker in… but it’s high and he’s running and that’s a ludicrously difficult chance. Aguero can’t reach the ball.
28 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Burnley are defending really deep, blocking all paths to City’s forwards. But they’ve found a way in now! Sterling has space… runs at the box and plays in Bernardo! He has time and space! But he cuts inside and loses momentum! Burnley can close him down, block the shot and the chance is gone. He had to hit that earlier and looks furious with himself.
25 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Walker goes on a run, pushes the ball ahead and slips! He’s gone down with an injury and Burnley can break! The ball is threaded into Wood, played level by Laporte… and Ederson saves with a brilliant bit of goalkeeping, rushing off his line. That was a one v one and City have survived it.
Walker is receiving treatment on his arm, it looks like McNeil has put his weight on Walker’s fingers or wrist, which will obviously be rather painful. Huge miss from Wood.
22 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Kompany has a foul given against him as Barnes shunts his back into Kompany while going for a header. He explains to the referee how that might have gone in a fair world but Burnley don’t care because they have a free-kick in a great position, 40 yards from goal. It’s exactly the same as the goal Chelsea conceded actually… but Mee’s header into the area doesn’t find a taker.
17 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
City move some passes around the final third< Silva floats a cross to the box and McNeil doesn’t fancy taking any chances and heads it behind for a corner. He wanted a shout to help there and without knowing whether someone was lurking behind the safe option was putting it behind. The corner is headed away anyway.
11 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Man City are taking charge of this one now and that explanation from earlier about the 4-4-2 press is exactly what Burnley are doing. The ball goes wide, the wide midfielder steps up, City pass back. City are moving it around and stretching the pitch but Burnley staying tight for now.
8 mins – Burnley 0 Man City 0
Aguero gets round the outside of the Burnley block and fires a cross to the near post which is blocked and cleared, Bernardo tries an effort from 20 yards but again is blocked. Burnley are defending in a block of eight so tight you could wrap an elastic band around them.
Ashley Barnes will be fired up today
Ashley Barnes has revealed that Jurgen Klopp has been sending him texts to encourage a goal today.
“I’ve had a few messages yesterday from Liverpool fans making a joke of it but it’s all good,” he told the Burnley Express.
“Klopp has even given me a sly text to say that if I score he might sign me for next season so I might be on the move!”
He’s not quite as mobile as Roberto Firmino but it just might work.
How Burnley will press Man City
Burnley are playing a 4-4-2 for a few reasons. It means they can have both of their strikers up top to hold up the ball and attack crosses but also forces Man City to pass wide from their buildup. When the ball goes to a full-back, the team shifts over and blocks, making the next pass go back to defence. It’s exhausting to keep up all game long and only takes a couple of superb passes to bypass, but should be good to frustrate City for a fair while.
It’s the final countdown!
Du du duuuu duh, du du du du duuuh, du du du duuuu, du du du du du du duuuuuhhhh etc
Man City and Liverpool will only have two games left after today to decide who is the Premier League champion. If City lose to Burnley it hands a two point lead to Liverpool, if City win they gain a one point advantage and go level on games played.
Only a fool (or someone without media training) would suggest it wise to look any further than the next game, one match a time, we go again, and though City have pummeled Burnley 5-0 twice this season, today’s match is different. The pressure and nerves could tell, it’s an away game, Burnley can be hard to break down and like to spoil a party – if they can keep the game at 0-0 the more City nerves will grow.
Pep Guardiola won’t accept any less than immediate and constant waves of attack to avoid such a situation but there’s not an awful lot he can do if his players don’t turn up prepared to batter their opponents. They will.
With no Champions League fixtures to prepare for Guardiola doesn’t have to rotate his squad. Does that mean Phil Foden misses out? He scored the winner last week against Spurs and could replace Ilkay Gundogan’s midfield slot from the (surprisingly easy) win over Man Utd. I’ve written a tactical preview which you can read here but if you hang out, relax, and wait a bit I’ll bring you live updates, analysis, some little drawings maybe and it’ll just be a great time.