If it had the air of a unique occasion for an icon of Manchester City’s past, it was simply business as usual for its current icon. Vincent Kompany made his first competitive return to the Etihad Stadium since his stunning goal against Leicester in 2019 and his surprise exit. He returned to the ground with his statue outside and to the club he helped make relentless winners.
And then, with precious romance and typical cruelty, Erling Haaland condemned City’s greatest captain to his heaviest defeat as Burnley manager. For the Clarets, who lost 5-0 at the Etihad four times under Sean Dyche, it was an even heavier defeat.
Kompany’s last act as a City player, the day before he announced his retirement, was to lift the FA Cup. With Pep Guardiola’s side in the semi-finals for the fifth time in six seasons, Ilkay Gundogan can join him in the elite group of FA Cup winners.
Haaland had broken a 94-year-old record for most goals in a season for City without finding the net in the FA Cup – in mitigation, he had only played once before – but he duly scored his sixth hat-trick. the campaign and second in four days. With 42 goals before the end of March, the Norwegian looks well on his way to setting the kind of mark that only one player could rival in the future: himself in the coming seasons.
He has eight goals in just his last two games. That Bundesliga title contenders Leipzig conceded five suggests Burnley fared well in comparison. Kompany’s rival said he would relish the challenge of taking on Haaland. His centre-backs may not have shared those sentiments and were probably relieved when Guardiola replaced his top scorer with half an hour to go.
Burnley have developed a reputation as a Championship City as they battle their way to promotion. Guardiola’s influence has disappeared on Kompany. And yet, if the score suggests that the master outshone the apprentice, the more prosaic reality may be that the superior man had Haaland. He converted the tie with two goals in four minutes. In the second half, when they were rampant, it didn’t matter that City were unimpressive for the first half hour. Burnley had restricted them to one shot, and even that was off target.
But scorers change games. Kompany played with the most prolific man in City’s history, Sergio Aguero, but Haaland strikes at a pace that even the Argentine could not manage. His 42 goals have come in just 37 outings.
The first, and most important, against Burnley came from an unconventional one-two. City beat the Clarets’ press as Stefan Ortega flicked a long ball that Haaland headed to Julian Alvarez. He then raced onto the return ball, slotting his shot past Bailey Peacock-Farrell. As Leipzig can attest, he can turn one into two quickly and was soon followed by a remarkably calm finish from Phil Foden’s cross. His third came from the rebound after Foden hit the post.
Alvarez hit the fourth from Kevin de Bruyne’s low cross and, two days after signing his new contract, doubled his tally after a sharp turn left defender Ameen Al-Dakhil on his back. The names being suggested by Guardiola showed no mercy to Kompany. He kept Haaland and De Bruyne while his seven changes included a switch to World Cup-winning striker Alvarez, plus generational talent Foden, who was involved in three goals.
The exception to the rule among the goalscorers was substitute Cole Palmer, who was left with a simple finish after Foden’s cross was saved by goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. By then it felt like a footnote that the first save of the day came from Ortega, denying Lyle Foster.
It was part of a brilliant start from the visitors, after a moment to enjoy their manager. Kompany, whose shock retirement as a player denied City fans a chance to say goodbye, appeared to receive a standing ovation from all four stands and a hug from Guardiola. Then began a vigil that could become increasingly painful. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the realist in Kompany had spoken of the huge gulf between the top of the Premier League and the summit of the Championship.
Even as a top-flight side, Burnley tended to struggle against City. The combined score in their last 11 meetings is now 40-1. Dyche’s football rarely proved successful against City. Kompany’s Burnley has a different ethos. They tried to press high, were marked in the midfield and caused errors. None of that mattered when Haaland started. As a player, Kompany could relish the times City scored six, especially in a Manchester derby. As a coach, he probably had less to celebrate.