Date: 29th December 2014 at 11:44am
Written by:

Santa Claus came close to delivering a true Barclays Premier League battle to the Etihad yesterday as the festive fixtures saw the Stretfords, supposedly boasting the best forward line in the universe fire blanks all morning and then Chelsea bow meekly on the south coast achieving only a draw at the rejeuvenated Southampton.

And at 1545hrs, with City leading 2-0 the stage was finally set for the Blues to put the challenge to retain the Premier League title into their own hands. But the good lord he giveth and he taketh away and City also ran out of steam in the second half to surrender that lead and come close to finding themselves beaten on their own patch by a team positioned 19th in the division.

On a cold bright day it began with venom for Manchester`s forwardless finest. Wave after sky-blue wave pounded the Burnley beaches as City once again attacked from all angles, but found the Clarets in stubborn mood. The triumvirate of Zabaleta, Navas and Silva were laser-like in their patterns down the City right, but the toes of ex-Blue Ben Mee and the resistance of another ex-Blue Keiron Trippier were just enough at times to prevent Milner, Nasri, Silva and Navas from capitalising on their own creativity.

After20 minutes of constant battering, Burnley finally turned up some kind of heat themselves forcing a number of anxious moments for City`s defence. The combative Barnes, their best player on the day got amongst Demichelis and Mangala, giving them a taste of their own medicine and the lively Ings could well have scored against the run of play. But it was the triangular assault at the other end that finally made the breakthrough with Nasri, Navas and Zabaleta all contributing to Navas` pinpoint pass onto the toes of Silva who spun instantly to drill a quick-fire shot intot he back of ex-Stretford, Heaton`s net.

Cue the onslaught and ten minutes later a move of similar beauty saw City once again on the fringes of the Burnley box, passing and moving with Nasri delaying the final ball just long enough for Fernandinho to get open and thunder a shot in off the underside of the bar.

As the break approached news was filtering through that Southampton had held Chelsea 1-1 and the door was open for City to capitalise. Two-nil to the good and outwith any reasonable trouble, one more goal would clinch victory leaving a difference of only one point between the top two, with the Chelsea-City contest on the horizon.

But what happened next was tantamount to a typical City moment as Burnley found some space in the inside left channel. Ings disturbed the cover in the shape of Zabaleta, Boyd gambled and was clearly two yards offside when the ball was played in, but he didn`t stop to ask questions as he slid the ball past Hart, no doubt amazed to see the flag had stayed down and his team was back in the match.

So City needed to get moving, but they seemed to move into reverse, allowing Burnley to get a bigger foothold in the game. Not only did the goal give them encouragement, but they found that by pushing their redundant back line a yard or two further up, their midfielders cut eliminate the space Silva was finding in the first half and deny the supply lines as well as force City to attack from deeper positions. But City didn`t really go for it and this encouraged the Clarets even more.

They moved the ball quickly into the channel being run by Barnes and Ings and the discomfort was becoming measurable for City and as they visibly tired, Burnley, one of the fittest teams I have seen this season, pressed on in belief. And they were duly rewarded, as was Barnes who collected the goal on the edge of the box and hammered home the equaliser from the edge of the box, Hart having no hope of saving it.

With the clock ticking away a new sense of urgency came to City but their play was untidy and passes forced without fluency, making the visitors` life quite easy as it was they who closed out the match with simplicity. Yes it was disappointing to see them heading for the corner flag for the entire five minutes of stoppage time but from a City viewpoint when the play did break slightly in their favour and with a man open in the box Barnes decided to settle for the draw and head to the corner rather than set up a winner for Burnley.

So a day that promised everything, became a festive banana skin, as predicted by this writer in his last tidings. On the positive side, City didn`t lose ground, but this was a fixture where they could have delivered themselves even hotter on the Chelsea heels and caused a huge hush along the Fulham Road. But their play in the end was without the passion needed and they more or less limped to a home draw which means they have now surrendered seven points at the Etihad so far this season, two more than the whole of last season. One visiting side claiming two of last season`s spills were Sunderland who are next to arrive at the Etihad as we creep into the New Year. Although we whacked them at Wembley and at the Stadium of Light last month, they don`t seem to be collecting to many point just now, except against Newcastle of course, so is there another slippery slope waiting for the Blues?

The truth be told that without Aguero, Kompany and Yaya the team deployed against Burnley lacked leadership. I`ve never been in favour of a goalkeeper-captain. We`ve tried Kolarov and Zabaleta before, but maybe Demichelis was the more likely candidate yesterday.

The two varieties of Fernando set off at pace and power but faded as the day wore on, Milner looked out of his comfort zone trying to run the front line and Nasri and Silva found their spaces narrowed in the second, which didn`t really help them press the button when it was needed.

It was good to see Jovetic once again returning from injury and despite a couple of wayward passes at crucial times he brought a save out of Heaton which on another day might have fooled him, but there wasn`t enough about this City team once it sacrificed the goal early in the second half, even though the said goal was miles offside.

The need to play twice in quick succession took its toll on City, Chelsea and the Stretfords, leaving the Flat Iron bleating and beating the well worn path on the subject of winter breaks. Has no-one told him that the Premier League paymasters as Sky and BT Sport, who happen to be broadcasters..the life blood of the same League, not forgetting Barclays of course?

Mourinho once again has the whole world picking on Chelsea as Fabregas was booked for diving instead of getting a dodgy penalty. Did this not happen to Aguero recently? Was there such a hoo-haa from Pellegrini? If Chelsea were not like a team of nine-pins maybe more sympathy would be exercised in their direction, but the Hazards of this world hit the floor with the slightest of contact and generally this current wave of referees buy into free-kick and yellow card land. Wenger claims Sanchez had run himself to a standtstill. Maybe that`s why he spends so much time grass munching. And then there`s Shrek who thinks that because he`s the captain of sold Trafford he can spend the entire match trying to get professional colleagues cautioned or dismissed by continually entering into unwelcome dialogue with match officials. When will one have the cojones to stick a yellow or red up his nose? The sooner the better. I find that practice despicable. It`s what we expect from a team of cheats.

The Blue seven-eighths of Manchester will persevere without forwards and without cheating and if the league opportunity does open up once again will probably be better equipped to take advantage. While Stretford receives the adulation of the broadcasting media as the play their once-a-week football, City will quietly hug the rails and be ready to pounce should the chance arrive.

Silva has found himself among the goals as a result of the new formation and even shots from outside the box are going in. But Mangala needs to stop giving away stupid free kicks outside the box. Without being unkind to Burnley they didn`t have the personnel to worry City but Chelsea, Arsenal and the Stretfords do. This needs to be taken into account in team selections against those teams who munch grass for fun in those locations.

The Black Cats come to town on New Year`s Day. City need to be prepared. They can have a bit of a day off against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup.

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