For half an hour Burnley would have been delighted with how their afternoon at the Etihad was going. They had frustrated Manchester City, caused Pep Guardiola anxiety on the touchline and made Erling Haaland angry with his own teammates.

City just couldn't find a way through the Clarets. So they went over them instead. It can feel almost unfair at times. You work so hard to stop Guardiola's team playing, to cut off their passing routes and reduce their options, but then they go and score from a long ball.

But this is no stroke of luck for City. While they were getting frustrated by Burnley's aggression and intensity, Guardiola was working on solutions. He signalled for Stefan Ortega, who had 43 touches in the first 45 minutes, to take the option to go long when it was on.

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The German goalkeeper had given the ball away in a couple of dangerous areas as he tried to pick out passes. Nathan Tella and Lyle Foster blocked the ball to defenders and Josh Cullen, Vitinho and Johann Berg Gudmundsson man-marked in midfield.

Guardiola then told Haaland not to drop deep to try and get on the ball, but to stay high when Ortega had it. To stretch the pitch but also offer an out ball. That led to the opening goal.

As Ortega advanced forwards with no options nearby, he went direct to Haaland, who managed to hold off Ameen Al-Dakhil and nod the ball down. From long ball to second ball, it went to Julian Alvarez, who slipped it back to Haaland and he was never going to miss when one-on-one with Bailey Peacock-Farrell. He poked the ball under the advancing goalkeeper for goal number 40 and for City it had gone from goalkeeper to goal in five touches.

In the end, this was a rout for City, but it took that goal to start to break Burnley's spirit. The irrepressible Haaland added another soon after and after that the floodgates were open in the pouring rain.

But the manner of the first set the tone for the performance in the final hour and it showed how adaptable this team has become. When he arrived in the Premier League Guardiola said that "you have to control the second balls. Without that, you cannot survive."

When his move to City was confirmed in the 2015/16 season, Xabi Alonso told Guardiola while they were at Bayern Munich that "you have to adapt" to the battle for the second ball in English football.

City haven't just adapted, they are starting to dominate in that area too. The accuracy of the long balls out from Ederson and Ortega and the physicality of Haaland is a combination that can be utilised more than ever before. When Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus led the line this wasn't a ploy. It didn't really work when Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva played as a false nine.

With Haaland, it can succeed. Teams can press City. They can man-mark the midfield. But when a goalkeeper launches it downfield, the 6ft 5ins striker wins it and a World Cup winner picks up the loose ball, there's not a lot you can do.


2023-03-19T07:09:53Z dg43tfdfdgfd