The philosopher could afford to be philosophical. Manchester City had dropped points for only the fourth time this season. Pep Guardiola concentrated more on process than outcome. “What we have done is, wow, one of the best performances we have done this season by far,” he said.
And yet the abiding image of Manchester City was not one of them luxuriating in excellence or consoling themselves that, in the broader scheme of things, they had moved a point closer to reclaiming the title. It was of Kyle Walker kicking out in irritation at an advertising hoarding.
It had appeared he had done his part to seal victory, supplying Raheem Sterling with the most inviting of chances. A breakthrough year for Sterling seemed certain to yield a 20th goal. Instead the winger missed an open goal and a phlegmatic Guardiola suggested he will reach the landmark against Leicester City on Saturday. “Anything can happen in football; next game he is going to score,” he said.
Sterling was substituted three minutes later – not, Guardiola was quick to point out, as a result of one poor piece of finishing – and Burnley levelled a further eight minutes on. “That changed the feeling; the stadium erupted,” said Sean Dyche.
Yet Burnley’s fightback began before Sterling’s radar proved faulty. They almost equalised two minutes earlier. “Their keeper makes an unbelievable save and then there is an unbelievable miss,” added Dyche.
If one of City’s English contingent was found wanting at Turf Moor, two of their boys from Brazil flourished in Burnley. Danilo put them ahead in spectacular style. Ederson preserved their lead, somehow pushing Aaron Lennon’s shot on to the post to deny the January signing a goal on a hugely encouraging full debut for Burnley.
It nevertheless hinted at the success of a ploy from Dyche that enabled his side to regain parity. He swapped his wingers in the second half, sending Johann Berg Gudmundsson to the left. From his new station, the Icelander met Matthew Lowton’s deep cross with a lovely half-volley. “It was alright,” deadpanned Dyche. Even then Ederson got a hand to it. Even he could not keep it out.
It was further frustration for Walker, the man Gudmundsson had eluded. It was reward for the Icelander, an emblematic figure of Burnley’s capacity to unearth bargains. The £2.5 million (Dh13m) buy from Charlton Athletic was denied the status of rescuer a month ago when his late leveller against Liverpool was cancelled out by Ragnar Klavan’s even later winner. This time his impact lasted, as the cheers at the end indicated.
Dyche, tongue in cheek, noted his side had gone a 10th game without a win, but the applause at the end reflected Burnley’s effort. “Fantastic mentality,” said their manager.
It is a shared characteristic in a clash of styles. “They are the most British of teams in terms of long balls,” Guardiola said. City did not respond in kind. If it seemed strange that his team, much smaller than their opponents, scored from a set piece, it was testament to their cleverness.
Kevin de Bruyne rolled a corner to Bernardo Silva who, in turn, moved it onwards to Danilo. To considerable surprise, the Brazilian found the top corner from 20 yards. Burnley evidently deemed it a one-off as they allowed City to reprise the move. Danilo produced another clean strike. This time, Nick Pope tipped his shot over the bar.
De Bruyne and Aguero also almost extended the advantage. “But football is about goals,” rued Guardiola. “We needed to score the second, third and fourth when we had the chance.”
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Other numbers were notable. Perhaps it was fitting that City’s goal came from an understudy. Danilo has seemed the fourth-choice left-back at times – “he is a right-back so he make a big effort to play on the left,” said Guardiola – and City’s resources were stretched.
They only named six substitutes. “We don’t have any more players,” said Guardiola, whose injured contingent now includes seven. The last men standing impressed. “To come here and play the way we played is almost impossible,” added Guardiola. “We controlled the long balls. We made an amazing build-up.”
All they required was the finishing touch. Sterling has often been the man to supply it, the specialist in late drama. “Raheem Sterling scored more last-minute goals for us than anyone in this league,” noted his supportive captain Vincent Kompany. They account for City’s sizeable lead.
Guardiola rebutted Jose Mourinho by arguing the title race is not over. “There are still 36 points [to play for],” he argued. “Still a lot can happen. Football is unpredictable.” So this proved.