Manchester City 2 Burnley 1
This hard-fought win left lingering uncertainty over just how good are Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. There was little of the pass-and-move play the manager yearns for and though victory is the bottom line no hard evidence exists to show City will secure a Champions League place, never mind the title.
With Ilkay Gündogan out for the season Guardiola could ill-afford to lose another midfielder. Yet off went Fernandinho in the first half for a second Premier League red card (and third in all) to rule him out for four games, this taking City’s tally to seven dismissals.
City were gifted the ideal moment to blow away the defeat at Liverpool during the first exchanges. A poor pass from Ben Mee ceded possession and suddenly Kelechi Iheanacho was in on Tom Heaton's goal. The goalkeeper smothered the Nigerian's shot and when the ball travelled to Yaya Touré he might have taken aim. Instead, he passed to Raheem Sterling and when the forward let fly Heaton once more saved Burnley.
Seconds later Touré easily turned the Burnley defence and slipped in Iheanacho but Michael Keane made the block when Iheanacho finally tried a shot.
Kevin De Bruyne then fired at George Boyd and this became City's tale: a series of letdowns near Burnley's goal. When Sterling led a breakaway following a rare Burnley corner his pace took him deep into away territory. Yet after the ball went to Jesús Navas the Spaniard's left-foot cross lack conviction.
Navas was one of four changes Guardiola made for the match. He dropped David Silva, John Stones, Sergio Agüero and Pablo Zabaleta and in came Iheanacho, Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy.
Fernandinho was sent off in the 32nd minute after he tackled Johann Berg Gudmundsson with both feet raised and was shown the red card.
It seemed the correct decision. From this point City became more ragged. The first half ended with Aleksandar Kolarov, De Bruyne and Sterling all having been outmuscled. Only Touré had been an asset against a Burnley side who offered scant threat.
Guardiola may have fired a few rockets at his side during the interval. He also admitted his mistake in selecting Navas and Iheanacho as on came Agüero and Silva. City failed to capitalise on a dangerous De Bruyne free-kick that dipped in from the right. The manager had implored the City crowd to make more noise but after a brief increase in volume they became just as passive as their team.
If the idea of introducing Silva was to increase the tempo there was an early sign it may work. His interplay with the under-par De Bruyne led to the ball being under Aguero's feet in the area but Stephen Ward cleared. Now, though, came the opener. Sagna floated in the ball from the right. This went clear across the area to Clichy. After a shimmy the left-back let go with his right foot and scored only the third goal of his City career.
Four more later the lead was doubled. De Bruyne raced forward and delivered his best pass of the match. Sterling received and advanced on Heaton. The forward fell over, which allowed Heaton to stab at the ball but it went to Agüero and his shot pin-balled off a post and Matthew Lowton’s arm to make it 2-0.
The goal took Agüero to 17 for the season and to third on the list for the club, equal with Colin Bell’s 153 strikes.
At this point City may have coasted home. Instead Burnley pulled one back. Claudio Bravo flapped at a corner and from the ensuing melee Mee forced the ball home – marginally, goalline technology showed. City were not happy and surrounded the assistant referee Ian Hussin and Mason, which led to Sagna's booking.
Keane went close for Burnley but City clung on. However, Guardiola must be concerned at precisely where they go from here.