Burnley Manchester City 0-3 Premier League

Burnley – Manchester City: Start As You Mean To Go On (0-3)

Short Burnley passes? Manchester City engineering long balls? Just how did football get into this position? Despite dynamics that would confuse the traditionalists, the result was not as unclear.

Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.

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At the heart of Man City’s defense, Vincent Kompany is more represented in an era before Pep Guardiola assumed domination. However, his tactical format has been one that’s certainly more modern of current trends: a goalkeeper part of the buildup, positionally fluid forwards and midfielders in the halfspaces. 

Burnley seamlessly came straight back into Premier League football after relegation, but their evolution on the field couldn’t be more different. Now they pass the ball shorter and play higher up the field, but whether Kompany’s progressive plan can stick in the top division is a mystery. As a result, nobody has brought more bodies in than Burnley in the Premier League this window, but even in this regard, young recruits are ready to build a new core at Turf Moor.

One question has loomed over Guardiola this summer, how do you improve a treble-winning side? City had appeared to find the formula, but losing İlkay Gündoğan and Riyad Mahrez are two experienced cogs in the machine that are gone. Croatians have provided rotational options with Mateo Kovačić and Joško Gvardiol, but an elite attacking hole is still waiting to be filled unless minutes for Phil Foden and Cole Palmer increase in the season.

Kompany was not afraid to blooden in the new signings. Five debuts in all, that filled in their 5-2-3 pressing structure. James Trafford started between the posts, against his former club, with Dara O’Shea in the right center-back spot. Sander Berge and Luca Koleosho were introduced in the midfield line, whilst Swiss international Zeki Amdouni started upfront.

The Pep roulette was in full force, even on the first matchday of the season. No John Stones or Rúben Dias in the squad, both were left out as precautions. No new signings either, as Rico Lewis came back into the team. Kevin de Bruyne was fit, Foden started and there was also a place for Julián Álvarez next to Erling Haaland.

Narrow Burnley block opens up

It took just four minutes for Haaland to put the ball back in the net, and in a manner that would have Burnley veterans shaking their fists. A short corner routine saw the ball move back to Bernardo Silva and a disguised pass into De Bruyne for one of his whipped crosses. Rodri knocked the ball back towards the center from the far post, and Haaland connected before two Burnley center-backs.

A crazy but not shocking start to the game, as City began their spells of long circulation. Foden and Silva held the wings, Lewis inverted but also pushed way ahead of the ball between phases and De Bruyne also moved deeper before floating down the right side of Man City’s circuit.

Burnley remained adventurous off the ball. In a high 5-2-3/5-2-2-1 system, Amdouni was positioned on Ederson’s right shoulder to bounce off Rodri or press Manuel Akanji. Lyle Foster and Koleosho were very narrow, body-orientated infield as Burnley aimed to man-mark their opponents centrally. Berge and Josh Cullen were high on the double pivot and the wide center-backs, Al-Dakhil and Jordan Beyer, followed City’s eights.

The narrowed approach did put City under some form of pressure early on. Ederson filled the space on the left of Akanji, which Burnley refused to engage with when the ball was at the goalkeeper’s feet. As Ederson aimed to knock the ball over their opponent’s double pivot, this did create some awkward aerial engagements for the City forwards. Additionally, Burnley was good at doubling up on either Rodri or Lewis and kept their compactness when resetting in their shape.

12th minute: No pressure on Ederson enabled Man City to pull Burnley’s central man-marking apart. A flick from Álvarez enabled De Bruyne to receive underside of him and created a one-versus-one Cullen. De Bruyne skipped past but his through ball towards Silva did not connect.

However, it did not take long for City to find solutions to this. For starters, zero pressure on Ederson meant that they could circulate the ball towards him and eventually force one of the Burnley forwards to step. The longer he was left on the ball, the more movement was seen between De Bruyne and Álvarez to stretch space and create bigger gaps for the ball to be played into. Lewis was not inverting next to Rodri after the first ten minutes, instead, he formed more of a diamond and moved further ahead of the ball as Berge was still engaged.

Kyle Walker also increased the pressure on Burnley’s block by overlapping further down the right side. Foster was stuck in a dilemma to keep his narrowed position or follow the fullback down the pitch. Ederson could also fire the higher balls into Haaland instead, as the effectiveness of Burnley’s off-ball approach began to degrade.

Dynamics change after De Bruyne substitution

After spending much of pre-season trying to recover from injury, De Bruyne had to be replaced by Kovačić halfway through the first period. On paper, a like-for-like substitute would still make sense, but the change of dynamics would lead to City increasing the pressure even further on their opponents.

They abandoned a player pinning on the left side of the field, as Silva moved towards Rodri, Foden switched flanks and dropped towards the center from the right, whereas Álvarez would do the same from the left. This would lead to their fullbacks overlapping when the ball was beyond the halfway line. Of course, their high flexibility meant that different players filled the spots out wide, but City mixing their players ahead of the ball constantly created a free man for the circulation to continue.

This wasn’t without hairy moments just before the half-hour mark, as Burnley counterpressed after Connor Roberts tried to pump a long ball towards the striker space. Lewis passed but lead to Amdouni poking the ball through Akanji’s legs, only for a pivotal interaction from Rodri to deny a direct shooting opportunity. Burnley were good at funnelling shot creation from their left side, sparked from moments on the transition.

However, City eventually found the same groove and was able to keep the ball higher up the field, even if they didn’t have a winger pinning the defensive line. Burnley’s wide center-backs were disciplined and kept these spaces tight, with the far-sided defender tucking inwards to congest the space. But when you possess the technical quality that their attack holds, then they can still wriggle the ball out of pressure comfortably.

35th minute: Buildup to City’s second. Burnley attempted to provide more pressure but did not compress the left side of their defensive block, as Foden was left in space and Walker could move behind Foster.

Pep’s team grabbed their second before halftime. As City exchanged passes backwards, Burnley attempted to step up on Rodri without properly covering the left side of their defense. Vitinho was miles away from Foden and Foster, who had dropped to create a 6-3-1 situational shape, had also moved forward which created space for Walker to move into. Beyer was forced to move towards the ball and Haaland pinned the remaining center-backs, this led to Álvarez being free for the cutback. Not quite the angle for the Argentine, but nothing stops Haaland from being as ruthless as ever. On the turn, he smashed the ball off the underside of the crossbar and bounced in at the far corner.

Burnley circuits come up short

The hosts also attempted deep buildup routines of their own, but Kompany’s young squad struggled to maintain much of a rhythm. A split around Trafford, the goalkeeper was encouraged more to play the ball down his right side with both O’Shea and Al-Dakhil down this channel. Al-Dakhil attempted deep passes through the halfspace, but Man City’s pressing intensity made this difficult to execute. Foster and Amdouni tried to spin their markers in these areas, but Nathan Aké and Akanji were good at shutting down Burnley’s passing targets.

Al-Dakhil switched flanks in the second half and positioned himself more as a fullback as Vitinho pushed forward and Foster was in the halfspace. However, building through short exchanges is very difficult in the Premier League, let alone against a press as aggressive as City’s. As Beyer tried to play Berge through the lines, they encountered a triangle of City players collapsing onto the receiver.

50th minute: Collapsing from Man City’s off-ball structure. This created a three-versus-one on the ball carrier and Berge was just able to wriggle out, but the intensity forced Burnley back to Trafford and his long ball was won back by Aké.

Burnley was forced to either play the ball laterally, go long down the channels or try and work from Trafford kicking the ball more towards the touchlines, whereas City were at their direct best early in the second half. This was due to more space being left as Burnley’s defensive line was disconnected from the midfield, as they attempted to put more pressure in a high block.

Ederson was able to connect with Haaland and Foden as Burnley left more and more gaps, perhaps better construction in these areas would have produced more goals. Kompany tried to adjust, but City were in their desired position and built the game state that is perfect for them to grind teams down, whilst they can circulate the ball once more. The third goal came fifteen minutes from time, an indirect set-piece landing in the six-yard box and perfect for Rodri to blast the ball in from very close range. A routine victory for Man City.


Kompany has laid a clear idea for his team and there were good signs in the adjustments he made. Off the ball, they were capable of putting Man City in uncomfortable positions, but sustaining this for ninety minutes is a difficult task against the Premier League elite. Out of the three promoted teams, it is Burnley who is best equipped to retain its position in the top flight, but Kompany has a tricky task embedding so many young players, not just together but to a level that can fulfil the expectation.

Man City picked up where they left off, flexible and the team to beat. Perhaps set-pieces will be the next steps for Pep to develop, a movement that saw the first goal as a good example of a predetermined plan to cause chaos around the box. Home to Newcastle United will be a good test, not just for set-pieces, but to continue to circulate and wriggle the ball away from the tightest of spaces.

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Joel Parker (21) is an Everton fan. Whenever he’s not watching his beloved Everton, Joel spends his time analyzing all sorts of football. Chief editor and Founder of Toffee Analysis. [ View all posts ]


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