After a deflating loss to Liverpool, Manchester City will have to prepare quickly for Burnley and their aggressive approach. The Clarets have had a degree of success with a style of football that has already troubled City this season but there can be no excuses for the Blues. It will be essential to take three points at the Etihad on Monday.
1. City’s defense needs to continue to improve
City has been behind within the early stages of too many games this season. Even if they collected themselves well after Liverpool scored on Saturday, the crop of individuals that have defended in front of Claudio Bravo have appeared disoriented and unprepared on too many important occasions.
Stopping Burnley’s counter-attacks should be a top priority. Andre Gray’s hat-trick on New Year’s Eve is a fair warning to Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones, or whoever else might be asked to line up against the Clarets.
Burnley has used a quick second ball to engage Gray, so there will need to be multiple defenders on their toes. As City seeks to achieve offensive objectives, the back line must remain weary of Burnley’s speed and sophistication.
2. The second (third, fourth, fifth...) ball has to be managed
Burnley will likely bring a rough-and-tumble approach to the Etihad. Fernandinho, David Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne, among others who could start the game, will need to control the pace.
If City’s build-up gets choppy and they aren’t allowed to move freely across the half-way line, we will need to see more inspiration than the Blues used to counter Liverpool.
They need to demonstrate their ability to change the orientation of the game. With the likes of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero available against Burnley, getting stuck in turnover battles in the middle of the pitch is unacceptable.
Settling possession and using quick combinations or intelligent crosses to open up opponents is always possible with City. By moving through the congested center of the field with more foresight, pace, and accuracy, the Blues could relieve the pressure of Burnley’s press and gain the advance positions they desire.
3. City’s offense needs to shine
With Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur securing wins on the first of the year, City sits fifth. A point behind the Gunners and even with Spurs (but trailing on goal differential), the Blues need to reshape themselves into a high-scoring squad.
Sergio Agüero was not allowed to contribute much to the Sky Blue scoring effort against Liverpool. There were a few moments of inspiration when he found a bit of space but City will have to perform with much more deftness and coordination to score the amount of goals needed to keep pace with league leaders.
Missed chances and tightly-packed defenses have frustrated Man City this season but their potential to exploit open space is unquestionable. Confident, energetic movement has been lacking, at times, and the Blues would benefit from a high-intensity display in the early stages of Monday’s game.