Vincent Kompany had been telling us all week to ignore Pep Guardiola’s bouquets, the Catalan’s siren voice intimating that the Burnley manager was such a talent he would inevitably be coaching Manchester City sooner or later.
Kompany knew it was all too much, too young, a case of being drowned in praise before scrambling for the lifeboats. After all, Kompany has been in enough Manchester City sides and seen off enough pretenders at the Etihad to know what was likely to be in store.
But then Burnley are a phenomenon in The Championship, running away with the league and, as such, this felt like an intriguing contest with the added twist of apprentice Kompany taking on his master Guardiola.
And then Burnley ran into the monster that is Erling Haaland. There is no shame in submitting to him. Not many tactical plans survive contact with the Norwegian. Yet the experience is brutal nonetheless. And all the more bruising when Kevin De Bruyne is given time and space in midfield.
There isn’t a team in world football that permit do that and emerge unscathed. Haaland now has six hat-trick this season – more than the rest of the Premier League players put together – 42 goals in the middle of March and nine this week alone.
Manchester City are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup after comfortable win over Burnley
Erling Haaland took his tally for the season to 42 after scoring another hat-trick
Man City (3-2-4-1): Ortega, Dias, Walker, Laporte, Rodri (Phillips 66′), Alvarez, De Bruyne (Grealish 89′), Lewis (Gomez 66′), Foden, Haaland (Palmer 63′), Mahrez
Unused subs: Stones, Ake, Gundogan, Ederson
Goalscorers: Haaland (32, 35, 59), Alvarez (62, 73) Palmer (68)
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Burnley (4-2-3-1): Peacock-Farrell, Roberts, Al Dakhil, Beyer, Maatsen (Taylor 77′), Cullen, Gudmundsson (Cork 45′), Tella (Obafemi 64′), Da Silva (Bastien 77′), Zaroury, Foster (Barnes 45′)
Unused subs: Twine, Manuel, Dervisoglu, Muric
Manager: Vincent Kompany
Referee: John Brooks
Clive Allen, who scored 49 for Tottenham in 1986-87, was sat in the stands here. He knows that post- war record is going. Dixie Dean has passed away but his family can at least be assured that his record of 60 league goals in 1927-28 remains safe. Probably.
That said, sixty goals in all competitions in a season might be in Haaland’s reach. No-one alive has seen anything like this in English football.
‘I don’t know the number this guy will reach,’ said Guardiola. ‘Probably in the future he will have a problem, because every game he has score three of four and this won’t happen. But then he’s so positive, so optimistic when that happens, he never complains.’
Kompany, a world-class centre half, felt for his players. ‘I played against Messi, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo. They’re part of a special elite and even the very best defenders find it hard to stop those guys. Someone like Erling will keep finding a way.’ That’s quite the list to be namechecked with.
Burnley were bold, give them that at least. They went man for man on City and refused to change their style of play. ‘The aggregate score of Burnley in the Premier league against City is something like 34-1 doing exactly the opposite style so someone had to give it a go the other way,’ reasoned Kompany.
He looked the part sartorially: skinny black suit, white T-shirt and baseball cap is quite the Euro-coach look. And for 32 minutes his team looked the part as well, matching City for quirky, positional set ups and off-the-ball runs and even producing dangerous moment when Nathan Tella forced Stefan Ortgea into a sharp save.
Burnley boss and City legend Vincent Kompany endured a nightmare return to the Etihad
Julian Alvarez got in on the action with a brace against the Championship leaders
And when Jordan Beyer slipped in a lovely ball for Tella on 28 minutes and it took a superb Ruben Dias tackle to save the day.
But it didn’t help Burnley that their positional reinterpretation of English football involved Ameen Al-Dakhill deciding not to track Haaland after initially challenging for a header on 32 minutes. There are interesting maverick takes on the role of the centre half in modern football but standing around whilst the most prolific striker in world footballer takes off on a follow up run is not among them.
Julian Alvarez then threaded through the kind of ball that Haaland simply devours. Sprinting on to it, his finish was exquisite, delaying until keeper Bailey Peacock-Farnell had committed and then prodding it past him.
Kompany immediately gathered his team to the bench to brief them but wasn’t in the playbook was conceding a second to Haaland three minutes later. This time it was the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne’s ball inside right back Connor Roberts was simply impossible to defend, which was followed by Phil Foden rolling his cross into the path of Haaland for 2-0.
When the half-time substitutes were made by Kompany, with Ashley Barnes and Jack Cork coming on, you sensed by now it might be futile. So it proved. Foden was buzzing around like the best kid on the playground showing off and accelerated past his man on 60 minutes, tucked away his shot, only to see it rebound off the post. Guess who was there, taking a perfectly coordinated swing first time and nailing the rebound for his hat-trick?
Kevin De Bruyne was at his best against Burnley after contributing with two assists
Three minutes later Riyad Mahrez found De Bruyne and Alvarez finished the incisive move for 4-0. If it were cricket, CIty would have declared. As it was, Guardiola did the only decent thing and took Haaland off.
Yet even that couldn’t stop the goal glut. Cole Palmer, the 20 year old replacement for Haaland, would find himself with a clear opportunity to make it 5-0 on 67 minutes after Peacock-Farrell had deflected Foden’s cross into his path. Of course, he took it.
De Bruyne then played one of those delightful balls through a ragged Burnley midfield on 73 minutes for Alvarez. And there is nothing the Argentine loves more to run at goal and as he twisted and turned, poor Al-Dakhill landed on his backside to make it 6-0.
The mercy for Burnley is that they stopped there. Kompany at least had the last word. ‘What everyone sees is his goals [but] his movement in the box, his athleticism and pace to be on end of those balls….and he is at the right place for his development, with right coach. I can see him improve a lot still. He’ll get better.’ Which is astonishing and terrifying in equal measure.