WHO needs Erling Haaland anyway?
The Norwegian forward was back in Manchester City’s match-day squad for the first time since breaking his foot at the start of December.
But nobody was going to upstage Julian Alvarez on his 24th birthday. With the former Borussia Dortmund man breathing down his neck from the bench, Alvarez struck twice in the space of six first-half minutes.
Haaland had the chance to put the icing on the cake and make it a happy return for himself when he appeared 20 minutes from time.
But he fluffed the couple of half chances that came his way and may have to be patient to win his place back off the Argentine World Cup winner. The Burnley fans who made the short trip down the M66 would have feared the worst and not just because of their predicament at the foot of the table.
Their last eight visits to the Etihad in all competitions had seen them ship 35 goals without reply. And the Clarets have won only one of their last 31 meetings with their North West rivals before this one.
To make matters worse, City have just started to find their feet in recent weeks – as they often do at this time of year.Seven straight wins dating back to mid-December has sparked a bit of chat around these parts they could do the double treble.
Burnley boss Vincent Kompany knew exactly what to expect having spent 11 years as a City player – the last three of them under Guardiola.It was an emotional day when he returned for the first time for an FA Cup tie in March but there was no old pal’s act as his team were thumped 6-0.
This time it was more low-key – a few warm handshakes before the game and the champions showed his team some respect – for 16 minutes at least.
Yet even though Haaland was only on the bench, there was a first start for Kompany’s old pal and fellow Belgian Kevin De Bruyne. He was back in his natural habitat in the middle with Phil Foden drifting back out to the right-hand side.
But it was the England youngster – who has been so good in a central role in the absence of KDB – who opened up the visitors for the opener.His pass sent Matheus Nunes away down the right and although his first cross was blocked he was able to float another into the middle.
Alvarez ghosted in between two defenders and planted a header beyond former City youngster James Trafford.
If that one looked easy then what about the second which arrived six minutes later?
It was brilliant thinking by De Bruyne – spotting the run of Alvarez and playing a quick free-kick into the Argentine’s feet. The World Cup winner had a quick look before clipping his effort beyond Trafford and into the corner.
That’s 15 goals for the season for Alvarez now – Guardiola will be thinking how he can use him once Haaland is back and firing. It was clearly a routine they had come up with on the training ground – Pep ran straight up to shake the hand of one of his coaching staff Carlos Vicens.
It felt like a question of how many City would score and defender Josko Gvardiol came closest to adding another – bending a shot wide. Burnley spent much of the first half chasing – but did have a chance to pull one back as Lyle Foster skipped past the returning John Stones but could not hit the target.
Whatever Kompany said to his players at half-time counted for nothing as within 24 seconds of the restart it was all over. Foden found some space down the right and squared for Rodri on the edge of the box.
The Spaniard picked his spot and curled delightfully around Trafford and into the corner. It was a goal not dissimilar to THAT one in Istanbul eight months ago.
January 2018 was the last time the Clarets scored here – and they haven’t had many better chances than the one Zeki Amdouni skied over the bar soon afterwards.
When you’re three goals down, the last thing the Clarets wanted to see was Haaland stripping off. They’ve only played against him twice, but he has rattled in five goals against them.
Yet he replaced De Bruyne with 20 minutes to go and he was given a huge welcome back from the home fans. City have won nine and drawn one since he was injured at Aston Villa two months ago – but they’ll be delighted to have him back for the challenges that lie ahead.
The Etihad held its breath when he chased a ball over the top but he was shepherded out wide by Hjalmar Ekdal and then tripped himself up as he tried to get a shot away.
With the game long since won, it prompted a few sniggers on the home bench. Guardiola wouldn’t have been smiling that his team allowed Burnley a consolation goal in stoppage time though.
New signing David Fofana got away down the right-hand side and his low cross was bundled in by Ameen Al-Dakhil.