Man City prove Guardiola's tactical flexibility with vital win at Burnley

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The Catalan says his side will not win the title playing scrappy football but the resilience he has instilled in this team will count for a lot when May comes around


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Another away game, another gritty victory for Manchester City. Pep Guardiola says his men won’t win the Premier League playing this way but he surely does not underestimate the resilience he has instilled in this team in such a short period of time.

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It is true that City’s 10-game winning streak, and the increasingly fine performances within it, seems a long time ago now. City are not dominating games, nor are they ripping teams apart like they did in August and September.

But, even if their results and displays have generally dipped in the last two months, their spirit has rarely been in question.

Considering many of these same players crumpled like a house of cards against any half-decent Premier League opposition last season, it is a remarkable achievement for Guardiola.

He said in his very first press conference that it would take time for his players to play the way he wants, but that they could play with “soul” from day one. He was right about the form and he was right about their attitude.

This was yet another away game with all the hallmarks of a smash-and-grab defeat. Guardiola named a much-changed, but still strong, side. John Stones and Ilkay Gundogan, like at Crystal Palace last weekend, were rested, while David Silva started on the bench. Yaya Toure was in again but there was no Kevin De Bruyne.

Burnley were always going to fight, play direct and look for the second balls. When Dean Marney crashed in an exquisite volley inside the first 15 minutes, the seeds for a defeat seemed firmly sewn.

But, once again, City stood up and fought back. The first half may not have made for pretty viewing and Sergio Aguero’s equaliser was not one of his vintage goals, but they did not allow themselves to be bullied. Overall they looked untroubled, and while they did not play Burnley off the park they did carve open some good opportunities, most of which seemed to come to an end after some surprisingly inhibited play from Raheem Sterling.

The second half started as the first half ended, with City knocking the ball about and taking the sting out of the hosts’ approach. Burnley barely had a chance after they took the lead - not least because City learned their lessons from Marney’s goal and set their defensive line for free-kicks a good 40 metres from Claudio Bravo’s goal.

Bravo did make some routine saves at the death but they were the only scares as City, and this often maligned defence, rode out the storm.

It was not great to watch but it should not be underestimated. Liverpool have been beaten on this ground, Arsenal needed an offside, handball winner in the 95th minute. Turf Moor is a difficult place to go, especially so just a couple of days after a Champions League match.

City’s Premier League away form is formidable. Barring the aberration at Spurs, they have won every match. Guardiola discovered early on that his team will not be able to dominate for the full 90 minutes, so City’s ability to ride out the inevitable waves of pressure pleases him greatly.

The concern when he arrived this summer would be whether his City team could play their passing game at England’s most notorious away grounds. He showed at the first attempt, at Stoke, the most notorious of them all, that there is more to his methods than that.

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City provided the latest example of that on Saturday lunchtime. With Fernando, who was excellent, alongside Fernandinho in the midfield, and Toure ahead of them, they posed a muscular threat, and one that was able to get stuck in where the boots were flying.

It was not a day for shrinking violets - as Sterling discovered when he was bombarded with disgraceful chants of “You let your country down” and was relentlessly booed after being substituted - but on the whole City stood up to the test and, yet again, came out of it with a victory.

Guardiola will want his side to improve when they are in possession, but he has already laid impressive foundations. These kind of wins - like the ones at Stoke, West Brom, Swansea, Palace before them - count for a lot in a title race.

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