Erling Haaland made his first appearance in almost two months following a foot injury as Manchester City beat Burnley 3-1 to keep the pressure on Premier League leaders Liverpool.
Haaland appeared as a second-half substitute, replacing Kevin De Bruyne, who impressed on his first start since August, but it was Julian Alvarez who set City on their way to a fourth consecutive Premier League win with two goals in six first-half minutes.
The Argentine’s second, following a close-range header for his first, came from a clever De Bruyne free-kick which outfoxed the Burnley defence. City then put the result beyond any doubt when Rodri swept home Phil Foden’s cut-back 24 seconds after the interval.
Haaland was unable to get in on the act, even displaying a hint of rustiness when he uncharacteristically spurned a couple of late chances, but his return, coupled with the reintroduction of De Bruyne, completed a satisfying evening for City, despite a late Burnley consolation goal by Ameen Al-Dakhil.
The result sees Pep Guardiola’s side jump back above Arsenal into second place, with a game in hand on leaders Liverpool. Burnley, meanwhile, remain 19th, seven points from safety, with manager and former City captain Vincent Kompany defeated on his return to the Etihad.
Man City: Ederson (6), Lewis (7), Stones (7), Ake (7), Gvardiol (7), Rodri (8), Nunes (8), Foden (7), De Bruyne (8), Doku (8), Alvarez (8).
Subs: Haaland (6), Grealish (6), Kovacic (6), Gomez (6).
Burnley: Trafford (5), Vitinho (5), O’Shea (6), Ekdal (6), Al-Dakhil (7), Gudmundsson (6), Brownhill (6), Berge (6), Odobert (5), Foster (5), Amdouni (5).
Subs: Roberts (5), Fofana (7), Ramsey (6), Zaroury (6), Massengo (6).
Player of the match: Rodri
How Man City eased to victory
Burnley had lost their last 13 meetings with Manchester City by an aggregate score of 43-1 and their task became even harder with news of De Bruyne’s inclusion and Haaland’s presence on the bench.
It was Alvarez, though, celebrating his 24th birthday, who inflicted the first-half punishment, plundering his first when he ghosted between two defenders to nod in the excellent Matheus Nunes’ cross, then adding his second from a clever free-kick routine after latching onto De Bruyne’s pass.
- Man City: Kevin De Bruyne made his first start since August while Erling Haaland was back among the substitutes following his injury.
- Burnley: Sander Berge returned to Vincent Kompany’s team, with Aaron Ramsey back on the bench following a spell out.
The Argentine’s quick-fire double put City in complete control, with Jeremy Doku another persistent source of danger on the left flank and Josko Gvardiol going close to adding a third goal when he cut inside and sent a curling shot narrowly wide.
Burnley spent most of the first half pinned in their own half but did have occasional glimmers of goal at the other end, with Lyle Foster firing one shot only a couple of yards wide shortly before the break. After it, though, City instantly added to their lead.
De Bruyne was involved again, releasing Foden with nicely-weighted pass on the right-hand side, with Rodri then sweeping home the England international’s cut-back from the edge of the box.
Burnley could have pulled a goal back earlier but Zeki Amdouni fired over when put through on goal, meaning they had to wait until stoppage time, when debutant David Datro Fofana danced into the box from the right and picked out Al-Dakhil, with Ederson caught out.
That goal gave the travelling supporters something to cheer but the biggest noise of the night had come earlier, when Haaland was introduced for De Bruyne in the 71st minute.
The Norwegian looked eager to make his mark but lacked his usual sharpness, comically miskicking one chance, failing to connect properly with a header on another occasion, then checking back and seeing an effort blocked when he might normally have raced away to finish.
It mattered little in the end, of course, despite Burnley’s late strike denying City a clean sheet. The champions march on. It’s a fourth consecutive Premier League win and an eighth in all competitions. The momentum is building.
Guardiola: More than three teams in title race
Man City boss Pep Guardiola said: “We are there. The important thing is that we are still there and that is really, really nice after what we have come from this season.
“We know if we drop points, with the quality of Arsenal and Liverpool, we are in trouble. I don’t have the feeling they are going to drop many points. That’s why we have to win as many games as possible. Then, in the end, we will see what happens.
“We have to be ready and the players know it. We push each other every time. I would say the right mentality is there. I don’t have any doubts about that. I think we are going to try.
“I don’t think it’s just three [teams in the title race]. Tottenham are still there. Aston Villa are still there. It can change.
“My feeling when I see Arsenal play is that they control many aspects. When I see Liverpool, every game they are better than the opponent. I know how strong they are. But still, we are there. We want to continue.”
On Erling Haaland’s return, he said: “I saw him sharp. He didn’t have three or four clear chances but I had the feeling he was there.
“I’ve been feeling good the last two months without him, but with him, we are a better team. We are really pleased that he is back.”
On Julian Alvarez, Guardiola added: “They can play together. Julian is an exceptional player. It’s more of a headache for me in terms of selection but it’s good that they are competing.
“Julian, for his age, for his numbers in the Premier League, for his involvement, what he gives to the team, it’s unbelievable.
“He is a world champion, playing alongside Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Enzo Fernandez, Argentina’s best players. He is playing and if you aren’t good, you cannot play in that team.
“He can play in three different positions. He has an incredible sense and helps us with his intensity to run. He is really good.”
Kompany: I still believe in this team
Burnley boss Vincent Kompany: “It’s never great when your team loses. But we played against a great side, we know that.
“It felt like a lot had to go our way for us to get something in the game.
“In moments, we were dangerous. But the goals we conceded, we could probably have avoided. But again, we were playing against a top side. We have to move on and focus on Fulham.
“I am disappointed with the goals but my job is to give the guys support in these moments and hold them accountable. But we played against a team that will explode every mistake, every weakness.
“I can’t tell my defender to run faster. The first goal is individual quality of the opponent. Of course you have to mark in the box and be alive, but it was a tough game. I don’t have any reason not to believe in this team.”
Analysis: Alvarez outshines returning Haaland
Erling Haaland’s return from injury was a major boost for Manchester City. His second-half introduction was cheered as loudly as any of their goals. But it was Julian Alvarez who inflicted most of the damage on the night.
His goals, scored in the space of six first-half minutes, took him to eight for the campaign in the Premier League. He also has six assists. He is quietly having an excellent season.
And yet a look at the statistics on Wednesday night suggests he did little other than score. The Argentine only had 24 touches, by far the fewest of City’s starters, and only completed 12 passes. His goals came from his only two shots of the night.
The Argentine is an atypical Manchester City player, low-touch but high-efficiency, and it is that streamlined effectiveness that makes him so important to Pep Guardiola. Alvarez is not the beating heart of this team but he almost always affects games.
It is for that reason that he has become so prominent. In the Premier League so far this season, the 24-year-old is the only Manchester City player to have started all 21 games.
The assumption is that Haaland’s return from injury will bump him out of the team. But do not be surprised if Guardiola continues to find room for him. This was just one of many games this season in which he has underlined his importance to the side.
Manchester City are back in action on Monday Night Football when they travel to Brentford, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 8pm.
Meanwhile, Burnley‘s next match is on Saturday when they host Fulham; kick-off 3pm.