It seemed somewhere between brave and foolish for Vincent Kompany to bet his professional reputation on Burnley this summer. The club sent out all their best players and ended up spending £40m less than in the window to pay off a £60m loan that fell on its owners for being relegated from the Premier League.
The win, which propelled the side into fourth place on Saturday, was a testament to how Kompany has scoured its contact book to completely rebuild it and instill a dedication to the passing game that, with utmost respect to Sean Dyche, has woven into these sharing was alien.
There was evidence of the new manager’s ability to find class without a budget in Ian Maatsen, the Chelsea loanee from Holland, and Manuel Benson, signed from Royal Antwerp for £3.6million to join Burnley’s new Belgian enclave . Route one is gone, followed by a more circumstantial, sometimes overly elaborate route with wing attacks on the flanks and passing sequences that were of the highest quality on this occasion.
It was Benson, dominating the left flank, who gave Burnley the lead just four minutes later – taking advantage of Alex Scott’s failure to collect a loose ball and running into the box to hit from the post. The way City stood off and let him charge in was bad.
But Kompany seems to be managing to mix the new with an old Burnley guard who are currently being reborn after several years of existential struggles in the top flight.
Jack Cork, now the lynchpin of the team and one of the few top players to remain, has always been the technical player Kompany demands of him. He made this team tick. Josh Brownhill, acting much further up the field than he had ever been under Dyche, made a significant contribution, matching Maatsen to a sharp shot and delivering a sharp volley in a half-hour when Burnley was at their best.
But it’s Saturday’s match-winner Jay Rodriquez, who has scored five goals this season after heading in a second-half cross from Johann Berg Gudmundsson, that has outpaced Premier League struggles the most. The forward caused trouble for City all afternoon.
Exploiting technical superiority was a problem for a Burnley side who had drawn five of their nine games before Saturday. Southampton loanee Nathan Tella had two good extra-time chances before half-time – the first after a quick move between Benson, Rogriguez and Maatsen, which was the best.
City promptly equalized against Nahki Wells’ run of play after Kompany’s defense failed to clear a corner.
Nigel Pearson’s side operated at times with a five-man defense.
Kompany has said his players and their supporters need patience with a system that often sees the ball being processed back by Manchester City centre-back Taylor Harwood-Bellis. You found it.
After Pearson’s players started the second half with a header from the evergreen Wells, which was cleverly overplayed by another City borrower, Arijanet Muric, Burnley began to reassert themselves.
At the end, Kompany went out to greet each stall. This victory seemed significant.
“Holding the ball and moving it back and forth is a new way of playing. We’ll take it,” Brownhill mused on Saturday night with the air of a man who actually seemed to enjoy it.