Verdict: Burnley 1 Manchester City 6
So much for our defensive Italian manager! After this six goal blitzing of Burnley, the only disappointment for Roberto Mancini was how the conditions prevented City from adding to our winning margin in the second half.
Mancini had spoken earlier in the week about how finishing fourth may come down to goal difference. At half-time there was every indication that City were going to catch Tottenham in this match alone. Then the heavens opened and the water logged pitch proved “a leveller” in the second period.
This was arguably the most remarkable match of a remarkable season for City fans, though recent history shows Turf Moor to be one of our happiest hunting grounds, with Shaun Goater having bagged successive hat-tricks during his time with the blues. The Goat would no doubt have relished this game with chances being created at will during the opening period.
With Tottenham having lost earlier in the day, fourth place was up for grabs, and City’s determination to claim it was abundantly clear with three goals in the first seven minutes. And it could have been more. Five by half-time actually flattered Burnley!
In the second period things took an almost surreal turn as the rain continued to pour and it looked like the game might be abandoned. For older blues, thoughts turned to an FA Cup tie against Luton in 1961 when Dennis Law scored six times only to see the match abandoned, and City lose the replay. A classic “typical City” beckoned again.
Fortunately the referee allowed the game to be completed, and both teams can take credit for trying to play football on a pitch covered with standing water. It would have been easy for players to aquaplane into opponents with sliding tackles and force the referee to call it off.
The Burnley bench apparently wanted the game abandoned, though whether an additional fixture, which they may well have lost, would have been beneficial for them is debatable. Bizarrely, Brian Laws may have seen his job saved by the rain. If the pitch had remained playable, City looked both capable and in the mood to hit double figures.
“We could have had a few more – the rain did them a favour, the way we were playing.
“If the pitch had stayed in the condition it was in the first half, it might have been even more goals. I’m not used to being three up after six minutes, but I’m enjoying it!”
Mancini’s line-up once again contained a couple of surprises with starting places going to what could be considered our third choice full-backs. With Zabaleta suspended and Micah Richards having a knee problem, Nedum Onuoha stepped in at right-back.
Following an indifferent performance against Wigan, Garrido gave way to Sylvinho. Both defenders showed greater composure on the ball than the players they replaced and this was a contributing factor in City retaining possession better than we have seen of late.
As had been suspected, Nigel de Jong was rested to avoid picking up a suspension, leaving Barry and Vieira in the middle. A hugely experienced, though not particularly mobile pairing.
This wasn’t an issue however as the front four of Johnson, Bellamy, Tevez and Adebayor was full of movement and invention. It was particularly good to see Tevez dropping deep, picking up the ball and creating opportunities. When he does this, the lack of forward runs from Vieira and Barry is less of an issue.
One thing that is noticeable from our attacking quartet is they all share a certain selfishness in looking to score. This is to be expected of the strikers, but rarer in wingers.
Bellamy remains a striker who can operate on the wing, and looks to cut infield and score – the second goal was a perfect illustration. Johnson may be a more orthodox winger, but has always had an eye for goal, and frequently looks to get a shot in, rather than a cross.
To some this may appear a fault, but it reduces the dangers of over-elaboration. Barcelona failed to make the most of their chances against Arsenal last week, a team who have often dropped points themselves by failing to convert possession into goals.
With City’s central midfielders – Ireland excepted – unlikely to trouble the scoreboard, the desire for our wingers to get amongst the goals is to be commended. In this game, the first goal was scored from a corner that resulted from a Johnson shot deflected onto the post.
Bellamy’s beautifully taken goal came from a pass that was intended for Adebayor. There were no hard feelings from the Togolese who indulged in the “shoeshine” celebration with Bellamy that was last performed by Robinho and Daniel Sturridge. Remember them?
An Adebayor shot, then enabled Tevez to snaffle a goal, while Tevez went on to play in Adebayor for our fifth. There may be some big egos in the City dressing room, but team spirit will never be a problem with performances such as this. Even Patrick Vieira was laughing with Vincent Kompany after the Belgian beat the Frenchman to head in the sixth.
Whilst the devastating attacking display won all the post-match plaudits, the concentration of the defence and determination to win the ball back in midfield was easily overlooked. These are the characteristics that bode equally well for our fourth place challenge.
Shay Given was required to make a point-blank save from a Burnley corner in the first-half, but otherwise we defended set-pieces excellently once again. Mancini could give zonal marking a good name if any of the media pundits bothered to examinine it.