Resolute, resurgent and resourceful, Manchester City are 90 minutes away from becoming record-breakers as they go seeking a 10th consecutive win in all competitions.
Injury ravaged and stripped bare of strikers, Manuel Pellegrini has steered City through a remarkable renaissance over the past 48 days, a period that has seen the points pile up, both home and away in domestic and European competition.
Having weathered the winter storms of West Bromwich Albion and put on a professional show in the snow, City can end the year on a high against a Burnley team battling for Premier League survival.
City effectively bounced the boing boing Baggies out of contention on Boxing Day with a 3-0 first half masterclass. As the second half blizzard took hold at The Hawthorns, so too did Pellegrini’s new found pragmatism.
The City boss substituted the sublime David Silva, stand-in skipper Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri at timely second half intervals to safeguard his attacking options, with the victory assured.
Stevan Jovetic made it onto the bench as the Black Country turned decidedly white, but with the Montenegrin as susceptible to breaking as a Ming vase being introduced to a jackhammer, Pellegrini opted for prudence.
City’s £22m buy from Fiorentina seems so fragile it’s become a game of Russian roulette every time he trains, let alone plays a game.
Undoubtedly talented, he’s more readily associated with other City ‘sick notes’ of recent times e.g. Roque Santa Cruz who never delivered due to constantly occupying the medical facilities.
Since Sergio Aguero – City’s ‘one man team’ – suffered knee ligament damage against Everton, his colleagues have won all five games by a combined margin of 10-1.
There’s even been a hint from certain pundits, that City don’t and haven’t been receiving the recognition that their achievements in adversity deserve.
That said, one cannot but scoff at some media coverage that lauds Chelsea as ‘runaway’ leaders, but who could yet conceivably be caught by the Trafford Troglodytes.
It’s laughable, but in a perverse way it plays into Pellegrini’s hands.
The Chilean doesn’t care for the glare of publicity and, in the same way Brendan Rodgers was the darling of the media last season, it won’t phase him that Mourinho and Van Gaal are grabbing all the headlines.
Captain Vincent Kompany is being suggested as fit and ready for action today, but the ever dependable Martin Demichelis, and rapidly maturing Eliaquim Mangala have forged a good understanding in recent games.
Kompany would make any World XI and will improve City as a unit – but only if that troublesome hamstring has been quelled.
Pellegrini has rotated his squad to great effect in recent weeks and today could see starts for Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksander Kolarov following the efforts of French compatriots Sagna and Clichy on Boxing Day.
Fernandinho might start ahead of City’s most unlikely goalscorer of the festive period – Fernando, albeit the ex-Porto man is now finally settling into the ebb and flow of life in the Premier League.
Silva and Yaya – scorers of City’s other goals at WBA – will once again provide the inspiration and drive, along with the tireless James Milner.
If Jovetic were to start, there is an obvious case for makeshift forward ‘Jimmy’ to be rested.
The nagging doubts about the Englishman’s long term future at City persist with his new contract offer remaining unsigned. The Sky Blue supporters truly appreciate what he brings to the team and he can hardly complain about a lack of game time this season.
It may be Milner’s qualms lay in what the future holds with a fully fit and improved squad in seasons to come. Even so, from the outside looking in it’s a question of being a part – an important part – of a trophy winning club, or a nailed on regular at an aspiring, but doomed to failing rival?
Milner’s homegrown status is a big factor but, nonetheless, City’s fans, as well as the manager, value his worth way beyond his nationality.
Every club needs a ‘James Milner’ and City want to keep the real McCoy.
The last time Burnley visited the Etihad they went away with something of a shock 3-3 draw.
Having gone 2-0 down, City fought back with goals from Shaun Wright-Phillips, Kolo Toure and Craig Bellamy, only for the visitor’s Kevin McDonald to snatch a late late equaliser.
There’s a certain irony that as City go for 10 consecutive victories in 2014, back in 2009 it was a seven game streak of draws that paved the way for the then manager, Mark Hughes’ departure.
Points dropped against Villa, Wigan Fulham, Birmingham, Burnley, Liverpool and Hull meant City’s projected points haul was off track in the eyes of Sheikh Mansour and Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
A win today would be the polar opposite for the present incumbent as City continue to defend their title with rigour, determination and no small amount of skill.
In the absence of any strikers, City will once again need to exercise patience and deploy City’s finest ever – a certain Mr Silva – to the greatest effect.
Pellegrini knows there are no easy games in England and Sean Dyche’s team are to be respected…but beaten by 5pm today.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu