Manchester City and Raheem Sterling far from their best as they brush aside Burnley

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Bernardo Silva of Manchester City celebrates with Rodri after scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Manchester, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Bernardo Silva of Manchester City celebrates with Rodri after scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Manchester, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Raheem Sterling must have viewed Burnley at the Etihad Stadium as the ideal opportunity to get among the goals again and demonstrate to Pep Guardiola why he should be playing more. In the end, this was not a statement performance from either Sterling or Manchester City but victory was enough to keep up the pressure near the top of the Premier League table. Job done, move on. It was that sort of afternoon.

To suggest this fixture has been one-sided in recent years is quite the understatement. City had won the previous eight meetings between the sides, scoring 30 goals to Burnley’s one, and the Lancashire club’s four visits to the Etihad prior to this had ended in 5-0 defeats.

So when City took an early lead, Sean Dyche must have feared the worst until it became clear that several of the champions’ A-list performers were below their best, or at least content with doing just enough, and Burnley were not simply going to roll over. They had their chances, make no doubt about that, but you can’t be this wasteful at the Etihad and expect to come away with points. Burnley remain winless and in the bottom three.

City’s best performer, once again, was Bernardo Silva, who opened the scoring and drove his team forward to maintain his superb start to the season. And to think he could have left in the summer had an acceptable bid come in. Kevin De Bruyne got the second goal but otherwise had an indifferent game - the Belgian’s season has yet to get going in truth - and this was another frustrating outing for Sterling, who admitted this week he may have to leave City if his game time does not increase.

The England forward was better in the second half when moved from No. 9 to a familiar left wing position and he slipped in Bernardo who squared for Riyad Mahrez to hit the crossbar. But he has managed just two goals in 27 appearances for City now and never came close to getting on the scoresheet, again looking short of confidence.

Sterling’s stint at centre-forward lasted 45 minutes before Guardiola accepted defeat, shifted him to the left and moved Phil Foden inside and City and Sterling were both better for it. That is understandable. He is a winger and looks uncomfortable with his back to goal.

Pep Guardiola played Raheem Sterling through the middle during the first half and the England man struggled with his back to goal - GETTY IMAGES
Pep Guardiola played Raheem Sterling through the middle during the first half and the England man struggled with his back to goal - GETTY IMAGES

With Ferran Torres ruled out for up to three months with a broken metatarsal and Gabriel Jesus absent after playing for Brazil the day before, it seemed inevitable that Sterling would be deployed through the middle but it is going to require an extensive period of adaptation if Guardiola is determined to persist with this thinking.

City scored early. Joao Cancelo fed Bernardo who pulled the ball back for Foden. His shot was spilled by Nick Pope and Bernardo nipped in to poke home the rebound before James Tarkowski could clear. “Bernardo’s in incredible form,” Guardiola said. “He’s playing at an incredibly top level.”

Soon after Bernardo’s goal, Cancelo volleyed at Pope from a lovely ball by De Bruyne but thereafter they struggled to build on the advantage. The passing was quite sluggish and they lacked their usual rhythm and tempo, despite the best efforts of Bernardo to inject some urgency.

It would have been interesting had Maxwel Cornet, deployed upfront with Chris Wood, scored in the 22nd minute. No one apart from Lionel Messi has scored more goals in the Champions League against Guardiola than Cornet, who found the net four times in three games with Lyon against City. But he would not prove to be Guardiola’s nemesis on this occasion. Running in behind Cancelo to latch on to Dwight McNeil’s fine through ball, Cornet only had Zack Steffen to beat but the City goalkeeper - in for Ederson who, like Jesus, was unavailable after playing for Brazil - was out quick to block his shot.

It was not Burnley’s only chance of the afternoon. Josh Brownhill whizzed a shot wide of the far post from 12 yards after Aymeric Laporte had put his team in trouble with a poor pass that Jack Cork intercepted. Ashley Barnes had a couple of opportunities after the break and Chris Wood skied over the bar from close range after De Bruyne had put City 2-0 up.

Mahrez ghosted forward and found De Bruyne in an inside right position in the penalty area. His shot was blocked, Mahrez and Ashley Westwood challenged for the loose ball and it rolled to De Bruyne who thrashed it left footed into the top corner.

“It was a better performance here, it’s been tough in recent times,” Dyche said. “We took the game on. We didn’t just wait to defend. We got ourselves in some great positions to score. There is not a lack of positivity or energy. Finding the killer moments and delivering on them is what we’ve got to do.”

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