A reminder, if it was needed, that Manchester City's aim at the start of every season is victory on all fronts. Despite Sunday's major Premier League setback at the hands of Leicester City, Pep Guardiola's side remain on course to win their fourth consecutive EFL Cup. Two goals from Raheem Sterling and a breakthrough performance for new signing Ferran Torres helped record a routine victory over Burnley at Turf Moor.
On only his third appearance since arriving from Valencia in a £21m deal, Torres provided a goal and assist in a 3-0 win for Pep Guardiola’s side, who progressed to December’s quarter-finals. Burnley, by contrast, were left to focus their energies on the more pressing matter of a league campaign which has started with two defeats from two games.
Victory never appeared to be on the cards for Sean Dyche’s men, who were second-best from the early stages onwards. City were dominant and Guardiola will have been pleased with how his players responded to Sunday's setback, particularly in the way they marshalled yet another side who sought to sit deep and hurt them on the break.
Though he has greater priorities this season, Guardiola’s strange love affair with the competition continued. The Catalan named a surprisingly strong line-up, perhaps with a view to building match fitness for the likes of Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne after City’s truncated pre-season. Dyche, meanwhile, had little choice but to select a number of first-team regulars given Burnley’s meagre spending in the transfer market and the shallow squad at his disposal.
City’s strength told in a first half that should have ended with the visitors comfortably ahead. Instead, they went in only one goal up due to a combination of Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s heroics and their own wayward finishing. On only his second appearance since joining from Leeds more than a year ago, Peacock-Farrell twice stopped Sterling - once after a delightful through ball from De Bruyne - and Cole Palmer, the only debutant in City’s line-up, was similarly denied.
Yet there were other occasions where Peacock-Farrell could count himself fortunate for City’s wastefulness. Sterling’s blushes were spared by the offside flag when he turned one volley wide from all of three yards. On the most encouraging display of his fledgling City career yet, Torres caused untold problems from both flanks throughout but still cleared the crossbar after running in behind Burnley’s line and latching onto another masterful De Bruyne pass.
Eventually, Sterling ensured that the scoreboard at least partly reflected City’s dominance, finishing off a fine move down the left. Aymeric Laporte - playing for the first time since testing positive for Covid-19 - slipped Benjamin Mendy in behind with an expertly-weighted through ball, and the left-back’s daisy-cutting cross allowed Sterling to apply a first-time finish from close to the penalty spot.
There was concern for Laporte at the start of the second half when he stayed down clutching his ankle after one heavy duel but, just as the centre-half returned to the field after receiving treatment, City doubled their lead. Palmer and De Bruyne combined to win possession and break from midfield then switching play wide to Torres. Again, a low cross found Sterling dead centre in the penalty area but this time, City’s goalscorer took a touch, set the ball onto his right foot and tapped-in past the flailing legs of Peacock-Farrell.
Torres had an assist but his break-out performance deserved a goal. It came not long after the hour mark at the end of another flowing counter-attack. From one end of the pitch to the other, in two passes and the space of just six seconds, Torres collected a pass that Sterling momentarily tripped over to go through one-on-one with Peacock-Farrell and sweep his finish into the far corner. It was no less than his display - and City's - deserved. Guardiola and his players march on, hoping that Sunday's ghosts have already been banished.