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.
Kompnay appreciated it was all too much, too young, suspecting it might be a case of being drowned in praise before being forced 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.
Craig Bellamy, Kompany’s assistant had suggested prior to the match that they should erect a statue of Johan Cruyff, Guardiola’s mentor, at Burnley’s training ground so great has been his influence on their playing style.
And when Burnley, the last bastion of English football, have surrendered to the Guardiola way of playing it feels it has the significance of the Fall of Constantinople.
Kompany looked the part sartorially: skinny black suit, white T-shirt and baseball cap is quite the Euro-coach look. Indeed, he shared an embrace with Guardiola before the game and was warmly received by the Etihad like it was home from home.
The twist was that he played a version of 4-4-2 here though not as you or Sean Dyche would know it, with full backs pushing into midfield and wingers helping out when the centre backs pushed into attacking creative positions.
And for 32 minutes his team looked quite 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. 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.
And then they ran into the monster that is Erling Haaland. No shame in submitting to him. Not many tactical plans survive contact with the Norwegian. After all, one of the Bundesliga’s finest had capitulated earlier in the week, conceding seven. As such. Burnley can feel pleased they did better than RB Leipzig.
Here Haaland took his total for the week to nine goals and 42 for the season. Reader, it’s mid March. No-one alive has quite seen anything like this.
Naturally it didn’t help Burnley that their bold positional reinterpretation of English football involved their centre half deciding not to track him, as Ameen Al-Dakhill did here 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 the failure to win a header and then standing around whilst the most prolific striker in world footballer takes off on a follow up run is not among them. Especially when the ball has fallen to World Cup winner Julian Alvarez, who threaded through the kind of ball that Haaland simply devours. Sprinting on to it, even his finish was exquisite, delaying his striker until keeper Bailey Peacock-Farnell had committed and then prodding it past him.