Manchester City reached the quarter-finals at a stroll, toying with Burnley while displaying the requisite killer touch. This was a good response to the 5-2 humiliation by Leicester though Saturday’s Premier League trip to Leeds may prove a more exacting test of where precisely Pep Guardiola’s team are.
Raheem Sterling’s two goals plus Ferran Torres’ first strike for City ensured the holders are in Thursday’s draw. Sterling is deputising at No 9 in the absence of the injured Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus.
“I’m incredibly delighted and happy with him,” Guardiola said. “What he gives this team in our four years together – since I arrived I knew he had incredible qualities – a guy who can play every three or four days, a fantastic player.”
Guardiola gave the 18-year-old Cole Palmer a debut in a strong side who had the major plus of Aymeric Laporte in the lineup following his recovery from Covid-19. The teenager impressed, commencing with a stiff challenge on Matt Lowton, following up later with a shot though this failed to trouble Bailey Peacock-Farrell, the home goalkeeper.
A sequence that had the ball zipping between Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, and Riyad Mahrez before Torres was found on the right showed City were in a high gear they retained throughout. Burnley were seeing close to zero possession and yet, as against Leicester on Sunday, City’s flakiness was evident when their hosts did manage a foray.
Ashley Westwood floated in a free-kick, Kyle Walker missed a header, and Fernandinho looked to have pulled down Charlie Taylor but Andrew Madley, the referee, refused the penalty appeal.
City are masters going the other way: a cute De Bruyne chip that removed the defence had Torres in but his shot was high. Peacock-Farrell then blocked a Palmer effort to keep the score level though a repeat may have been beyond him had Sterling not failed to connect cleanly after an impressive Torres sprint and cross.
Then, at last, Sterling did hit a first-time finish and Peacock-Farrell was beaten with ease, Laporte and Benjamin Mendy combining to create the opening along the left.
City had other chances yet the teams switched ends with only the single goal separating them. Sean Dyche, Burnley’s manager, had replaced Matej Vydra with Chris Wood in attack at the break but it was City who scored again. De Bruyne tapped the ball to Torres and his slide-rule cross was coolly dispatched by Sterling. It meant the contest had reached a juncture where City might overwhelm their hosts.
What followed was De Bruyne directing the ball and teammates around the pitch as if the opponent was not present. And when Burnley did rove forward Rodri, Mahrez and Torres led the charge to press and claim back possession.
When Palmer received near Peacock-Farrell’s goalline he calmly rolled it to Torres and his effort was cleared off the line. This miss might have been costly when Ashley Barnes volleyed at Zack Steffen but it was off target.
Now, City did put Burnley properly away. Mahrez hit Sterling whose touch was not great but contrived to turn the ball into Torres and the Spaniard beat Peacock-Farrell.
Guardiola said Oleksandr Zinchenko was missing because of an injury that will keep him out “two or three weeks”, suggesting the left-back, who looked like he would leave City in the transfer window, may stay.
Burnley’s James Tarkowksi played his first game of the season following injury. He, too, is subject of transfer speculation but Dyche said: “We want him to be here.”