Gabriel Jesus might have beaten Nick Pope to delight fans of both sublime finishes and easy wordplay, but it was Burnley who were truly counting their blessings after the first half of Tuesday’s Premier League encounter with Manchester City.
But for Pope’s point-blank stop to deny Raheem Sterling from a devilish Kevin De Bruyne cross and another reaction save with his boot when Bernardo Silva roved into the Clarets’ box, Sean Dyche’s men would have been playing for pride alone during the second half at Turf Moor. In the end, it mattered little.
After a sapping run of one win in five matches across all competitions, compounded by Liverpool streaking away into the distance, Pep Guardiola’s champions looked something like their old selves in a commanding 4-1 win.
There was a pop and fizz to their work, as has always been the case with Guardiola’s best sides. In the period between Pope thwarting Silva and the peep of Jon Moss’ half-time whistle, Burnley found themselves struck on what Alex Ferguson once dubbed the “passing carousel” after his Manchester United were left discombobulated by Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final.
Cracked confidence was being fused back together, never more evidently than when City’s number nine curled a beautiful finish past the keeper’s fingertips from the left-hand side of the penalty area – the ball caressing the side netting on its way in.
Feast follows famine as Jesus ends drought
When it comes to his goalscoring prowess, Jesus’ form certainly moves in mysterious ways.
His opener against Burnley was his first goal in 11 matches for club and country – a run that included two comedically terrible penalty misses. If the San Siro goalposts had collapsed after he slotted wide from 12 yards against Atalanta at the start of last month, he would have recreated Diana Ross’ USA 1994 opening ceremony masterpiece to perfection.
If that left self-belief dwindling, apologetically scuffing a penalty wide compounded matters when Brazil lost to their old enemies Argentina a week later.
Before that slapstick-embossed drought, the 22-year-old scored in each of his first five starts for City this season. Yet, the extended first-team run guaranteed by Sergio Aguero’s thigh injury looked nothing other than a burden at Burnley until the moment Raheem Sterling and David Silva combined to release him to beat Pope.
Like enthusiastic punters at a Christmas fairground, Burnley were back on the carousel after the half-time break.
8 – Gabriel Jesus has scored eight goals in his last nine starts away from home in the Premier League, including five goals in five away starts in the competition this season. Heir. #BURMCI pic.twitter.com/uZMRfKTADU
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 3, 2019
Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass… WALLOP.
City shuffled their opponents back and forth across the edge of the area, Bernardo Silva floated an inviting cross to the far post and Jesus volleyed a chance into the top corner that he might conceivably have shinned into his own face at any time in the past week.
Jesus then spun James Tarkowski and came agonisingly close to a deserved hat-trick, his self-belief resurrected in timely fashion as the Manchester derby awaits on Saturday.
Rodri provides the prime cut
Burnley were unable to assert themselves as an attacking force, with the often-maligned Nicolas Otamendi acquitting himself well against Chris Wood – the Burnley striker cutting a forlorn figure as his usual partner in crime Ashley Barnes spent the first hour on the bench.
Given the UK audience were enjoying the first Premier League fixtures to be shown live on Amazon Prime, Otamendi – a man with the stars of several Netflix dramas tattooed across his back – might have been an ill-fitting hero.
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 3, 2019
As it was, record signing Rodri crowned his most accomplished outing in City colours with the blockbuster moment.
Having broken up and distributed play with astute judgement throughout, the former Atletico Madrid player dispensed with subtlety to lash a bouncing ball high into the net with brutal force from 22 yards.
Riyad Mahrez and Robbie Brady exchanged late goals on a night when City arrived at Turf Moor with their dressing room plunged into darkness by faulty electrics. The yawning gap at the top is down to eight points for now – perhaps the lights have not gone out on this title defence just yet.