Burnley-Manchester City Preview
It's the most dangerous of five-letter words when used in the context of describing a team, more so when the finished product is still weeks, and even months from a time when such a label could be used in its proper context with comparison to the standard bearers said team is trying to emulate over the course of a sport.
But make no mistake, Manchester City have a chance - repeat, a chance - to be one of those great teams come springtime. At this moment, though, Pep Guardiola's Premier League-leading side look to continue being a buzzsaw Saturday when they host Burnley at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City (7-1-0) are riding a 10-match win streak across all competitions for the second time in as many seasons under Guardiola. Last season's run to start his tenure in which City scored 30 goals proved a false dawn on the blue side of the city as Antonio Conte and Chelsea eventually overtook the Sky Blues, but the salve of maintaining a Champions League spot meant the status quo was at least maintained.
City have netted 36 goals during their current run of decimating opponents, but it's the quality of goalkeeper Ederson that has proven to be the biggest surprise. And the ruthless efficiency from goal-scorers Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and others down the line have put fear into those who play against the side with the nice blue uniforms.
"It is a great team," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said after absorbing a 2-1 loss Tuesday in Champions League play. "They have everything. They are very quick, they are tactically very savvy and, if they stay in the kind of good mental shape they are now, they really could go all the way."
Ederson, who came over from Benfica on a £35 million transfer after it was clear Claudio Bravo was not the answer between the sticks for City, rose to the occasion Tuesday. He turned aside a penalty by Dries Mertens to preserve the two-goal lead to help the Sky Blues stay perfect in group play and take a huge step towards reaching the knockout round for the fifth straight season.
"He's a guy who's settled quick," Guardiola said of Ederson, who has seven clean sheets in 11 starts. "A calm guy, makes saves, is good with the feet, fast, strong, young, wants to learn, listen."
Ederson's most valuable asset after shot-stopping is his ability to quickly transition City from offence to defence in multiple ways. The Brazil international is arguably the most accurate keeper in the Premier League when taking his booming goal kicks and almost always picks out the right defender in quick-fire fashion to cycle the ball out of the box after playing the ball with his hands.
De Bruyne, meanwhile, is enjoying a run of form that has name being thrown around as the best player in the world not named Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Belgium international's greatest asset is that he may not have a true position, and Guardiola lets him roam as a link to the forwards all over the final third. He assisted on Jesus' goal that proved to be the match-winner and also thumped the crossbar, leaving him with two goals and seven assists in all competitions.
"In the end, it's a great result for us so we are happy," De Bruyne told City's official website after the win over Napoli.
"We handled it quite well and we're very happy with the nine points (in Group F). Even when you win with a lot of goals, there's a lot of work that we put in."
Though Burnley (3-4-1) will never be confused with Napoli in terms of quality, the Clarets have struck their own positive reversal of fortune this season in the top flight by showing the ability to thrive on the road. After claiming just one win and seven points outside Turf Moor last term, Sean Dyche's team already has a pair of victories and eight points from a challenging gauntlet that has already made stops at Stamford Bridge (win versus Chelsea), Wembley Stadium (draw with Spurs) and both Merseyside venues (draw against. Liverpool, win over Everton).
The Clarets are unbeaten in six (2-4-0) in league play after scrambling to draw 10-man West Ham United 1-1 last Saturday. Chris Wood scored on a well-placed cross from Johann Berg Gudmundsonn on 85 minutes as Burnley remained part of a four-team logjam with evergreens Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, trailing the Blues on goal difference, the Gunners on goals scored while narrowly ahead of the Reds on goal difference.
"We kept going and got a point and it's hard to be disappointed at the moment," Dyche told the team's official website. "We still need some bigger moments in the top third and some clarity, but there are good signs of what we are trying to achieve."
Some of that could be provided by Gudmundsson, who is making a case for more playing time. An integral part of an Iceland side that will participate in the World Cup for the first time next summer in Russia, the 26-year-old is gaining the trust of his manager.
"The gaffer told me to go one-on-one with the full-back and get crosses in and I was happy to create the goal," Gudmundsson told Clarets Player HD. "We have shown we can be tough against the big boys. We have had some great results, Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool, so hopefully next weekend we can do the same.
"They are in great form and it will be a tough game."
City did the double over Burnley last season in large part due to Aguero, who had match-winners in both contests and scored three of his team's four goals. The Argentina international, whose next goal will tie him with Eric Brook for the most in City history with 177, has not played since Sept. 26 after suffering a rib injury in an automobile accident in the Netherlands.
Burnley had drawn their previous two visits to Manchester City while playing in the top flight.
Updated October 19, 2017