Manchester City. / AFP PHOTO / dpa / Maja Hitij / Germany OUT
Manchester City head into their Premier League match against Burnley on Saturday boosted by having secured a place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare after a midweek draw at Borussia Moenchengladbach.
The 1-1 result in Germany means manager Pep Guardiola and his City players can focus on the Premier League for the next month or so, beginning with a visit to Burnley.
Guardiola’s side have been inconsistent while juggling European and domestic demands, dropping points in each of their last three home league matches and falling to third place in the table as a result.
They were not entirely convincing in Germany either, with a failure to win meaning they are now certain to finish second in their Champions League group, which is likely to result in a tougher draw in the next round.
Even so, it is worth remembering that Guardiola’s team are unbeaten in five matches in all competitions –- a run that includes a memorable victory over Barcelona.
They have been beaten just once in the Premier League so far this season and are, for all their recent difficulties, just one point behind leaders Chelsea, who visit Eastlands on December 3.
Guardiola’s players stayed in Germany to train on Thursday before flying home. A short turnaround could cause problems for City, who lost 1-0 on their last league visit to Turf Moor in March 2015.
“It is tough to fly back and be prepared but mentally we have got to be prepared,” winger Kevin De Bruyne said.
“There will be almost no training for the game on Saturday but we will try to be there and have a good performance.”
– ‘Huge gulf’ –
Guardiola must consider what role, if any, Yaya Toure should play against Burnley. The midfielder made a surprising return to the starting line-up at Crystal Palace last weekend, and was the best player on the pitch, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win.
Toure had not featured for City since August, having fallen out with Guardiola after being left out of his Champions League squad. The dispute was exacerbated when Dimitri Seluk, the player’s agent, publicly criticised Guardiola, but Toure has been welcomed back into the squad after apologising to his manager.
City captain Vincent Kompany, however, has definitely been ruled out after damaging his knee ligaments at Palace, the latest of several injury setbacks.
Burnley, widely expected to be fighting relegation after promotion from the Championship in May, reached the heights of ninth place before this month’s international break. However, Monday’s 4-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion was a sobering experience for manager Sean Dyche and his players.
Dyche does not really have the depth of squad to make multiple team changes and so is likely to give those players who underperformed at The Hawthorns a chance to redeem themselves against City.
As a result, Burnley striker Andre Gray — who has started just once since completing a four-game suspension in late October — may have to settle for a place among the substitutes again.
Burnley have been much tougher to beat at home than away this season, but Dyche has acknowledged that his side face a significant challenge this weekend.
“There’s a huge gulf between where we are as a club and where Manchester City are as a club, both on and off the pitch,” he said. “But it is the marvel of football, when random results turn up.
“We’ve had our fair share of them over my time here, and even this season. So who knows on that side of things?”