“Just two games,” said Pep Guardiola. Manchester City are almost there, only Leicester City and Brighton & Hove Albion separating them from back-to-back titles.
“Be calm again and against Leicester we are going to get three more points,” the City manager pledged. “We have won 12 games in a row. It is incredible.” Making it 14 will render Liverpool’s efforts irrelevant.
Beating Burnley was a close affair in another respect. Title races can be determined by fine margins and this may come down to one point and 29.51mm, the distance by which Sergio Aguero’s winner crossed the line. “Without technology, maybe it is not given,” said Guardiola, an advocate of it.
City extended their record haul to 158 goals, but only just. After a slow start, they had to lay siege to the Burnley goal before the breakthrough arrived. It came from a predictable source and little more than an inch.
This is the fifth consecutive season that Aguero has brought up 20 Premier League goals. He remains a phenomenon and, if his most important, most iconic strike for City will forever remain the dramatic decider in the 2012 title race, this was among the more significant of his collection of 230. “A legend,” added Guardiola. “He does that all the time.”
It was not the only recurring theme. So often the catalyst, Bernardo Silva found Aguero in a packed penalty box. So often the scourge of Burnley, the Argentinian turned away from James Tarkowski and unleashed a shot of considerable power. Tom Heaton, in brilliant form, got a hand to it and Matt Lowton hooked it away, but only after it crossed the line.
“I was happy for the technology,” said Aguero, and it removed the controversy; with VAR, City may well have led earlier. Silva’s shot had struck Ashley Barnes’ left arm. Referee Paul Tierney ruled it was not a penalty.
Thereafter the defiant Ben Mee, a graduate of City’s academy, produced a brilliant goal-line clearance to stop Gabriel Jesus from doubling the lead after he had latched on to Kyle Walker’s diagonal ball and darted past Lowton. “We deserved to win,” added Guardiola. “We created a lot of chances.”
Heaton also made fine saves from Aguero and Silva in an onslaught. “The second half, we make another rhythm,” said Guardiola. The first half was another matter; City had plenty of possession but struggled to find the final pass, with a slow pitch stripping them of tempo.
Few prevent City from having an attempt at goal for almost half an hour but Burnley did. Even when Silva drew a save from Heaton, it was a regulation affair. “They didn’t really cause many problems [before the break],” said Sean Dyche, a boyhood Liverpool fan whose side provided stiff resistance.
Burnley camped behind the ball, challenging City to break them down. It is a test Guardiola’s side have passed many times this season. They had the patience and persistence to prevail. His own intervention helped as City returned after the interval with more urgency, playing at a greater pace and committing more men forward.
They ended with more than usual at the back, the substitutes John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi making it four specialist centre-backs on the pitch. “We didn’t have another one,” smiled Guardiola. “If not, I would bring [him] on.”
He took no chances and City granted their hosts few. Burnley did not muster a shot on target, though Ederson still made a crucial contribution, racing off his line to deny Chris Wood a first-half shooting chance.
“We controlled the game,” added Guardiola, who is wary of Burnley’s set-piece prowess. “In the most typical English stadium, we didn’t concede one corner.” He joked he was trembling when asked if nerves prompted him to send for defensive reinforcements.
Dyche deemed that those changes a compliment and remembered City’s determination to see out time at the end. He added: “I heard Pep Guardiola screaming: ‘Get it in the corner.’ I thought it was refreshing.”