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Burnley 1-1 Manchester City: Tactical Analysis

A disappointing result on the road doesn't hurt City’s title chances, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

Burnley v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

This game was incredibly frustrating. Manchester City had no excuse to not come away from this game with 3 points but they did just that in an away match at Burnley on Saturday.

City were on point with many aspects of their game, unfortunately finishing didn’t happen to be one of those aspects. Burnley pressed high up the field, playing with two strikers to occupy the center-backs, but Pep Guardiola’s team still did a great job in breaking the press throughout the match. Unfortunately, that ability did not transition into quality finishing as the team wasted opportunity after opportunity due to poor finishing or inaccurate passes in the final third.

The most frustrating miss of all was from Raheem Sterling, who butchered a low cross from Kyle Walker that I think you and I would have been able to finish. This one chance was far from the only reason that City missed out on the victory against Burnley, though. The Blues were cursed by a combination of inaccurate finishing with indecisiveness in the final third and poor final passes.

Pep Guardiola played what was likely his strongest starting eleven available given the injuries his team is facing. With a front line of Sergio Agüero flanked by Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, City were more than capable of taking care of a Burnley side that has been struggling as of late. And to be honest, the way this game played out had every indication that the Blues would have no problem finding their way to three points. City dominated possession all game and were able to create chance after chance.

Many of City’s strongest attacking build-ups were constructed around Sergio Agüero dropping into midfield to link up with the defense. Fernandinho was tightly marked throughout this game and his offensive influence was dimmed by the Burnley gameplan. Pep did drop an additional midfielder, usually Ilkay Gundogan, deep with Fernandinho to create an extra passing option. Regardless, the City backline was put under pressure to be accurate with their passes whether it be into the holding midfielders or further upfield. Overall, City broke the press beautifully but lost their quality in the opponent’s box.


One of the main concerns without Leroy Sané in the lineup is City’s lack of pace to cut through the backline. In order to compensate for this, Pep moved Kyle Walker far forward in the second half and dropped De Bruyne in behind him, almost as a right-back. With Sterling on the left and Walker active on the right, this gave City options on both sides of the pitch to expose the Burnley backline. Not to mention, this also freed up Bernardo to roam centrally and create as a midfielder where he may be at his most lethal. City looked poised to score several goals given this structure, but just couldn’t complete the connection in the attacking third.

Burnley were defensively oriented throughout and made a conscious effort to not let City get to the end line to send cutback passes into the box. Many of City’s attacks ventured in that direction but were forced back to the corner of the box into possession of full-backs Kyle Walker or Danilo. To their credit, City did a great job of creating despite Burnley’s discipline.

The only goal Manchester City scored was off a short corner that led to the foot of an unmarked Danilo. Burnley manager Sean Dyche has said previously that he is comfortable with his team giving up low-chance shots from distance. Unfortunately for Burnley, this plan backfired on them in this particular situation as Danilo fired a shot from distance that he was able to place right where Mom keeps the peanut butter, to the right and on the top shelf. This goal was truly a peach, and I highly recommend re-watching it several times to appreciate its beauty.

I think it’s important to discuss Danilo’s quality in this game because his presence may be critical in how City manage the next month of matches. He has received big criticism for not being able to beat out a couple of players (Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko) who are natural midfielders for the left-back opening given Benjamin Mendy’s injury. Despite his best position being at right-back, this decision by Pep appeared to be a clear statement of his trust in Danilo. And with the current state of the squad’s health, his versatility may be a saving grace moving forward.


Burnley v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pep alter his formation going forward, and Danilo’s ability to play at either full-back position or in defensive midfield provides three opportunities for rotation. Not to mention, if Danilo is a trusted option at left-back, that makes Zinchenko available to play more forward as a winger or attacking midfielder. City suddenly have more depth in the back than in attack and this may be used to play an additional player in midfield, abandoning the traditional 4-3-3. I would be surprised if Pep didn’t try to get his attackers more rest in the near future by moving a player like Danilo into midfield and advancing an attacking midfielder onto the wing.

The draw against Burnley is clearly a frustrating result, especially given City’s dominance throughout the game. But winning the league is still in great shape despite this result and I am personally more concerned about getting through the League Cup final and next rounds of Champions League.

I have full faith in Pep obviously, in every way, but I would love to see this team get prepared for these non-league fixtures coming up with some squad rotation in upcoming league games. I would be surprised if any version of this team blew what is now a 13-point lead and it is more important to stay in alive in other competitions. Injuries have made it challenging for Pep, but their lead in the league should help them get as prepared as possible without sacrificing much.