Manchester City 2, Burnley 0: Chris Boden’s thoughts on an improved Etihad display and a stand out performance from Nathan Collins
Pep Guardiola may not have been able to recall his name after the game.
But the early signs are that Nathan Collins will become a very familiar face to everyone with an interest in Premier League football.
Asked how difficult it can be to break down opponents, Guardiola said: “You can cross the balls, but with Tarkowski there, Mee was not there but the new central defender, the young lad, he is strong as well.”
The young lad certainly was strong…
It may seem strange highlighting the performance of a centre back after a 2-0 defeat, but if anyone was looking for compelling evidence of why Burnley have committed to a deal which could cost more than the £15m club record outlay, for a 20-year-old with just 47 games under his belt, Saturday was an impressive show reel.
On only his second Premier League appearance, at the home of the champions, Collins didn’t have an out and out centre forward to mark, with City’s constant rotation and fluidity of movement.
But the Leixlip lad showed a level of concentration and composure remarkable for so little experience.
He moved the ball at pace when required, and strode forward with confidence - with a number of people remarking on how similar he looks to former Claret Michael Keane in possession.
And he was unruffled in his day job, picking up the clever runs of City’s front five, and foiling them with minimum fuss time and again.
One cameo in the second half saw him narrow the angle for the mercurial Phil Foden, who looked certain to get a strike on goal, and not only deny him the time and space to get his effort away, but steal the ball, and knock it around Bernardo Silva, before winning a free kick.
He would later block what looked a certain goal for Bernardo as well, and while there were a couple of hairy moments, if he was “pretty happy” with his performance against Norwich, he could be absolutely delighted with his showing against City.
Collins said, ahead of the game, before skipper Ben Mee’s positive COVID-19 test: “Hopefully I have done enough to ask a big question of the gaffer.”
And it says a lot that many Clarets fans are wondering whether Mee will get straight back into the side when he is available again.
Collins has been the first to acknowledge the help he has received from Mee and Tarkowski, saying: “It was easy to slot beside the likes of James and Ben Mee, because they help you so much.
“They also know the game so well, and James really helped me on the day (against Norwich).”
As Dyche admitted before the game, of Tarkowski’s influence: “If I was a slightly fitter, younger man I would certainly be feeling relaxed going onto a football pitch with him as my partner.”
And Tarkowski was similarly solid against City.
While Burnley conceded twice on the day, the problems continue to be at the other end, where chances are being created, but not taken.
Maxwel Cornet and Josh Brownhill, at 1-0 down, and Chris Wood, at 2-0, had golden chances to score, but five goals in eight Premier League games - one an own goal - tells its story.
Cornet looked certain to add to his staggering record of four goals in three games against City, when played in by Dwight McNeil’s killer throughball, but, having got his body in front of Joao Cancelo, couldn’t beat Zack Steffen with his right foot shot.
Brownhill dragged an effort across the face of goal with his left foot, after great work from Jack Cork, just missing Wood.
And Wood poked over after Collins headed on a McNeil free kick.
You certainly have to take any openings you create to have a chance against City, but Burnley have to up their conversion rate moving forward, or a tough start will become a torrid campaign.
Only Brentford have hit the woodwork more often than the Clarets so far this season, but the fact that Burnley’s strikers have one league goal between them says it all - especially given the centre backs have two.
Dyche is nothing if not loyal, and continues to back Wood, Ashley Barnes, Jay Rodriguez and Matej Vydra to get goals - and Wood has guaranteed double figures in his time at Turf Moor.
But while the forwards are yet to fire, as Dyche looks for the right pairing at the right time, there needs to be more from elsewhere - the wide areas, and, in particular, central midfield, who do a sterling job often outnumbered every week, but offer little in the way of a goal threat.
At least Cornet looks like giving Burnley another option, in that his running in behind stretches defences, whether from the wide areas or centrally, where he started at City.
While McNeil likes to come short and pick up the ball in deeper areas - to good effect at City - Cornet wants to go beyond defenders, timing his runs for most effect.
He has looked like scoring in every game he has played - as a substitute against Arsenal, enjoying a hatful of chances against Rochdale, netting with a superb right-foot volley against Leicester, and going close against City.
Cornet and Collins at least look very shrewd business on Burnley’s part, and hopefully we will soon see Connor Roberts get the chance to bring his talents to the fore.