Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Burnley – tactical analysis

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Saturday’s game in the Premier League saw Manchester City gaining three points against Burnley. Taking into consideration that before this game, City had their worst start in the Premier League since season 2008/2009, we can understand the importance of this win for Guardiola’s team. On the other side, Burnley faced quite a complicated game and faced almost an impossible obstacle for them.

Manchester City for the first time this season scored more than three goals and showed to be fully in control. The capability to direct the game in their favour in the first half also gave Guardiola the opportunity to make some early substitutions, allowing some players to rest before the next Champions League’s game against Porto. Dyche’s team, on the other hand, showed its limits and difficulties both offensively and defensively.

In this tactical analysis, we will examine the defensive organisation of Burnley and we will understand the tactics implemented by Guardiola and its strengths. In this analysis, we will also highlight how the Cityzens took control of the game from the very beginning.


Guardiola started with a 4-2-3-1. Ederson was between sticks with Rúben Dias and Stones as centre-backs. Mendy was the left-back, while on the opposite side we had Walker. The midfield consisted of Rodri, Gündoğan, and De Bruyne, with Ferrán Torres, and Mahrez behind Gabriel Jesus in attack.

Dyche instead opted for a 4-4-1-1. With Peacock-Farrell defending the goal, Lowton played as a right-back with Taylor on the right. Tarkowski and Mee were the centre-backs. There were four midfielders: Westwood and Benson in the centre, with Rodriguez and Barnes on the sides. McNeil acted as the attacking midfielder in support of Wood, the only forward.

City’s overwhelming first half

Manchester City started the game with their typical style. They established themselves in the opposition’s half and with good quality ball control, were able to find the back of the net quickly enough to demolish Burnley’s hope.

The first goal from the Cityzens was the outcome of an offensive transition, finished for the first goal of Mahrez. The Clarets suffered the organised pressing of Manchester City, gifting them with an opportunity to quickly counter-attack.

As we can see from the below footage, McNeil was in possession of the ball, however, he missed the potential for a forward pass, and he was forced to play back to his defence. Rodri chased him for almost half of the pitch, and his run was rewarded by recovering the ball.

The above footage shows Tarkowski in possession, having only eyes on the ball. His pass was not accurate and gave the opportunity for a run to the Citizens.

Having all the passing options closed, Tarkowski could have played back to his goalkeeper, however, he opted wrongly for a pass back to McNeil. Rodri stole the ball and served Torres who is quick enough in finding De Bruyne.

Following all the footage above, we can see how Burnley have pushed back from the attacking third to their own half wherein they ended up losing the ball.

The quality of Manchester City’s players did the rest, with a one-touch pass from Kevin De Bruyne for the Algerian international who had no problem beating the goalkeeper with his favourite foot.

The transition found Burnley not prepared and Mahrez had an easy task finding the opening goal after six minutes.

The second goal meanwhile came from a smart throw-in taken by Walker. The English international showed great vision and power finding Mahrez inside the penalty box. From the below image, we can appreciate Mahrez’s run behind Burnley’s defence taking everyone by surprise.

Mee was caught completely off-guard from Mahrez’s run and we can see that his body orientation is completely off. He was not even looking at Mahrez when Walker played the ball in. Mee tried to recover his position by chasing Mahrez who won the 1 vs 1 showing great pace and dribbling skills and found for the second time the back of the net. Even though the smartness of Walker must be appreciated, the passivity of Burnley’s players played a significant role and Mee’s carelessness was heavily punished.

Burnley’s defensive organisation and playing style

Burnley came into the game with settled ideas defensively and offensively. The Clarets when not in possession of the ball kept a line of five in defence. Depending on the danger, the midfield shape could change to three or four men, with Wood left as the most offensive player. The tactic was based on covering as much space as possible, creating a block and density in front of and inside the penalty box, in order to not leave the Citizens easy passing lines.

There was a clear idea for the restart phases as well. Peacock-Farrell who played between sticks that day was throwing a long pass aiming to find Wood’s head. In case Wood could not reach the ball first, Burnley were aiming to win the second ball in order to start an offensive manoeuvre. Wood often found himself alone between Stones and Dias, having a hard time for his entire game.

The still above shows how the offensive phase got even more complicated considering the fact that often the Clarets were outnumbered by Manchester City’s players, with seven players from Manchester City against the five from Burnley.

Even though the second ball was won, the Clarets had difficulties in moving the ball and create any danger due to the number of bodies that Manchester City was bringing around the ball, shortening the distance between each other.

Much like the opening goal scenario, due to the high and organised pressing, the ball was often played back.

The image below shows again Tarkowski in possession of the ball facing the first block brought by Manchester City. The positioning of De Bruyne is interesting, accompanied by Torres and Gabriel Jesus on the same line, with De Bruyne in the centre of it. The defence was obliged again to pass back to his goalkeeper.

The 4-4-1-1 chosen by Dyche when in possession revealed to be not efficient or at least not as productive as expected. Ederson was kept idle for the entire first half and the first shot on target arrived only after one hour.

The difficulties in avoiding the first block and the issues in playing and keeping the ball in the offensive third showed a lack of creativity and personality, which made Burnley mostly inoffensive, as well the ineffective dead balls.

When the score was large and more time was passing, Burnley came up creating some more danger as a result of Manchester City lowering their concentration and intensity, saving precious energies for the next game.

Mendy’s role

As per his typical approach, Guardiola gave clear instructions to his left winger to offer something going forward.

The French national had a significant impact on the game and often made himself available on the same line as the forwards. The third goal from Manchester City reflected the proper outcome of this tactic. The below image helps to appreciate the effort made by Mendy and his belief in his teammate’s effort.

Mendy was left completely alone on the wide channel and made his run starting from the half-way line. With his diagonal run, he made himself available to receive the perfect delivery from De Bruyne, finding the net with a one-touch finish.

The hat-trick

Manchester City decreased their intensity in defence and pressing, but even when the score was totally in their favour, they kept building goal opportunities with disarming ease.

The below footage does not only show how the fifth goal was generated but as well as all the negative aspects showed by Burnley during the game.

Tarkowski gave away the ball with a bad long pass and Manchester City were able to find the way through with only two vertical passes. Walker served De Bruyne, who had no pressure at all. He had the time to turn, control, and calibrate a perfect pass for Foden’s run.

Foden attacked the inside channel between Tarkowski and Lowton, who was caught by surprise. We can see how far and behind he was from Foden.

Simultaneously, Mahrez cut the defence. With Mee and Taylor having eyes only on the ball, Mahrez had a straight advantage in attacking the space behind them, positioning himself inside the penalty box.

Foden’s assistance was finalised by Mahrez’s header, who brought the ball home at the end of the game.


Guardiola can definitely be satisfied with the overall performance of his team. This Manchester City team gave the impression of being dangerous and effective compared the one from last season. They are now six points behind Liverpool and with one game less played, plus the next phase of Champions League already achieved, Guardiola can definitely work with more serenity and the possibility of doing some turnover that happened against Burnley can be the key for staying competitive until the end of such a busy season.

Dyche on the other hand needs to find a solution and quickly. His team have the worst attack in the Premier League and the fragility of his defence risks to compromise their chance to stay in the top league in England.