Alvarez scores brace as Man City defeat Burnley
On his comeback from injury, Erling Haaland found himself overshadowed by fellow striker Julian Alvarez, who played a pivotal role in Manchester City’s comfortable triumph over Burnley.
Making his first appearance since fracturing his foot in the loss to Aston Villa on December 6, Erling Haaland returned as a 71st-minute substitute at Etihad Stadium. However, his notable moment involved drawing laughter from teammates Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic on the bench after a mis-kicked attempt at a turn-and-shoot.
In contrast, it was Julian Alvarez who stole the spotlight on his 24th birthday. The Argentine claimed the man-of-the-match title by becoming the 10th player in Premier League history to score two or more goals on their birthday. Both of his goals occurred in the first half, with Matheus Nunes delivering an excellent cross for Alvarez’s headed goal in the 16th minute.
Furthermore, just six minutes later, Alvarez capitalized on a well-executed free-kick routine from the training ground. Kevin de Bruyne appeared set to curl a cross into the box but cleverly rolled a precise 20-yard pass that only required a first-time finish.
Rodri, in characteristic fashion, secured a third goal in the opening minute of the second half by confidently driving home Phil Foden’s cut-back from the edge of the area.
Vincent Kompany, Burnley’s manager and former City captain, would have been satisfied with his team’s persistent effort until the final whistle. Despite their relentless battling, they managed to secure a consolation goal in injury time, with defender Ameen Al-Dakhil bundling in their first goal at this stadium since 2018.
However, their efforts proved insufficient to thwart City’s dominance, as the second-placed team secured their eighth consecutive win in all competitions and extended their winning streak against second-bottom Burnley to 13 consecutive victories.
With City currently five points behind league leaders Liverpool, holding a game in hand, and level with third-placed Arsenal, they are in pursuit of an unprecedented fourth consecutive league title. Manager Pep Guardiola emphasizes the need for a significant winning streak to maintain their title defense.
“With this Liverpool that we have faced for eight years, and Arsenal, with Mikel [Arteta] who has settled his squad, I don’t have the feeling that they’re going to drop much points,” he said.
“We have to win as many games as possible and, at the end, we will see what happens.”
Praise for City backroom hero Vicens
After expressing his joy over Alvarez’s second goal, Guardiola turned to his bench and sought out Carlos Vicens. Originally a promising youth player from the Balearic Islands, Vicens spent his playing career in the Spanish lower leagues before transitioning to coaching.
Surprisingly, he began his City journey as a work experience participant in 2017, eventually earning the role of assistant coach for the under-12s and under-13s teams. Over time, he climbed the ranks and currently serves as City’s set-piece coach, a position Guardiola commended for the meticulous planning evident in the flawless execution of the initial idea during a Premier League match.
Certainly, effective execution relies not only on well-laid plans but also on players’ abilities to carry them out. In Kevin De Bruyne, City boasts one of the world’s premier players who can translate strategic ideas into on-field success.
Making his first start since a recurrence of the hamstring injury he initially suffered in the Champions League final against Burnley on the season’s opening day, De Bruyne demonstrated a level of deception akin to ‘Traitors.’
Gazing into the penalty area, he signaled the type of cross expected before swiftly adjusting his body to deliver a precise pass directly into Alvarez’s path.
With City firmly in control following that goal, it became a matter of awaiting Haaland’s return to the action. The forward received cheers during his warm-up and again when he substituted De Bruyne.
Haaland exhibited a familiar threat in his running style and the way he aggressively approached the ball. However, a moment of dressing room banter ensued when Jeremy Doku ignored him as he advanced into the box.
Once the inevitable rustiness fades away, it shouldn’t be long before Haaland regains his scoring form with the right contact.
“It has been really good without him for the last two months,” added Guardiola. “But with him we are a better team and we are really pleased that he is back.”
Burnley relegation concern continues
Burnley, more than most, has a vested interest in the outcome of the profitability and sustainability rules charges faced by Everton and Nottingham Forest.
Without Everton’s 10-point deduction, Burnley would already find themselves trailing by eight points, and Forest would be just above the relegation zone.
Kompany, possessing a deep understanding of what to anticipate in this stadium, is likely disappointed that his players failed to respond promptly to Nunes’ audacious cross or De Bruyne’s astute free-kick.
Given Burnley’s track record of conceding 28 times since their last goal against City, victory seemed improbable for the Clarets, who have only secured three wins this season, once they fell behind.
They did pose occasional threats on the counter, with Lyle Foster narrowly missing a curling effort just before half-time and Zeki Amdouni shooting over with only Ederson to beat.
However, there was never a genuine belief that they could turn it into a competitive match. Even Al-Dakhil’s first goal since joining Burnley from Belgian outfit Sint-Truiden 12 months ago came as a bit of a surprise at the conclusion.
“We played one of the best teams in the world,” Kompany told BBC Match of the Day.
“In these games it’s about being able to build chances and momentum. I felt if we had the last pass coming off, if we put it in the back of the net, it would help of course.
“We had our moments. I can dissect it as much as I want, but we have to move on to Fulham now.”