Manchester, United Kingdom — Julian Alvarez celebrated his 24th birthday in style as the Manchester City striker scored twice to inspire a 3-1 win against Burnley on Wednesday.
Alvarez bagged his brace in the first half to ensure City had no problems brushing aside outclassed Burnley at the Etihad Stadium.
The Argentine’s double took his goal tally for the season to 15 in all competitions, including seven in his last seven appearances.
Rodri netted City’s third goal after the interval as the Premier League champions made it eight successive wins in all competitions.
Ameen Al Dakhil’s stoppage-time goal was no consolation for Burnley, who sit second bottom of the table.
Second-placed City remain hot on the heels of leaders Liverpool as the title race gathers pace.
There was more good news for Pep Guardiola as Erling Haaland came off the bench for the last 20 minutes, marking the City striker’s return from a foot injury that had sidelined him since December 6.
Alvarez’s goals have covered more than adequately during Haaland’s absence, but the Norwegian will add another level of menace to the treble winners as they try to overhaul Liverpool and win a fourth successive title.
After a worrying wobble before Christmas, City are rounding into form and fitness at just the right time.
“It’s a long time, five months, Kevin De Bruyne didn’t play. He comes back with energy. He played really good. Him and Erling are going to help us this part of the season,” Guardiola said of his returning stars.
“Today, the game was not close. There are games with this score that feel closer, this was not. We had players who have less control than usual, but we had more runners, more speed.”
Slowly worked back in the mix with three substitute appearances, De Bruyne captained City in his first start since suffering a hamstring injury in the opening game of the season at Burnley.
The Belgian midfielder almost made an instant impact with a free-kick that clipped the Burnley wall and looped just over.
City had won their previous 12 games against the Clarets, who had not taken three points from a league visit to the blue half of Manchester since 1963.
Alvarez made sure there was never any chance of City losing that dominant record.
City’s opening goal was a typically smooth move in the 16th minute, starting with Phil Foden unfurling a pinpoint lofted pass towards Matheus Nunes.
Faced with a tricky angle as Burnley defender Dara O’Shea blocked his path, Nunes cleverly shifted his body to flick a perfectly-placed cross to Alvarez, who applied the finishing touch with a close-range header.
Alvarez’s birthday party was just getting started and the Argentine was on target again six minutes later.
This one was a goal straight off the training ground as De Bruyne’s quick free-kick caught Burnley napping and Alvarez scampered clear of the flat-footed defence to slot a clinical finish past James Trafford from 12 yards.
Guardiola immediately made a point of getting out of his seat to hug his set-piece coach Carlos Vicens, suggesting it was his idea that led to the intelligently crafted goal.
Guardiola’s men were in complete control and even Josko Gvardiol felt emboldened to try his luck from distance, but the City defender could not keep his shot on target.
Rodri put the result beyond doubt just 24 seconds after the interval.
Foden was the catalyst with a vibrant break down the left flank, the England forward pulling his cross back to the edge of the area, where Rodri smashed a superb first-time strike past Trafford.
Haaland was immediately in the action on his return, rising for a header that was scrambled away at the far post.
Al Dakhil prodded home after City failed to deal with David Datro Fofana’s cross, but the damage had long since been done by the rampant champions. — AFP