On the face of it Manchester City‘s win against Burnley had an inevitability about it, and the ease with which they dispatched their opponents means this game probably won’t be remembered later in the season when key matches are being picked out with hindsight.
But Sean Dyche’s team haven’t been an easy side to beat for the clubs expected to challenge at the top end of the table. They have secured results against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur this season, but Pep Guardiola’s side dispatched the Clarets with relevant ease.
They took nothing for granted, and though they did make changes to their front line, their strength in depth is such that Guardiola can rotate without it affecting the quality of their starting lineup.
Bernardo Silva came into the side, starting just his second Premier League game of the season. The Portuguese began on the right where he could cut in on his stronger left foot, and though he didn’t get himself on the scoresheet, he won the penalty which resulted in the opening goal and put in a good performance.
His inclusion is one example of the club’s depth, but there are many reasons why they would be able to chop and change their line-up and cope with absentees further down the line.
Certain elements of their side have remained unchanged throughout the campaign, and there are a few players who are undoubtedly key to the way the starting XI play.
Kevin De Bruyne has gone from the unnoticed player who was pulling all the strings in midfield, to the league’s most visible standout performer within the space of a few games.
His transformation from a dangerous and versatile attacking player into one of the best all-round midfielders in Europe is testament to his and his manager’s ability firstly to recognise this talent, and then have the quality to make the role work in practice on the pitch. He and David Silva at the top end of the midfield in front of Fernandinho are a big part of the way the side operate.
John Stones has developed into one of the best ball-playing centre backs around, eradicating the mistakes and lack of concentration he showed towards the end of his time at Everton. He now fits perfectly into the City style under Guardiola, and could be another player considered key to the way the team play.
But while there are a handful of players who really make this side tick, this team give the impression that they have the quality and versatility to cope with missing players in almost any part of the side.
The injury to new left back Benjamin Mendy threw up a problem, and exposed the area of the side most lacking in depth. However, Fabian Delph’s emergence in the position has been a demonstration not only of the versatility of the player, but the manager’s ability to adapt his system and his players to cope with even the most troublesome of injury problems.
Similar subtle alterations were made up front to accommodate Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus in the same starting XI. It took Agüero some time to settle into the systems used by the former Barcelona manager, but once he did he has become a very effective part of the team and is now reaching top form again.
The rearranging of players and the tweaking of the various setups has given Guardiola a number of options to choose from. He can now tailor his tactics depending on the opponent and rotate his side regardless of whether these changes are forced, or made voluntarily in order to rest certain players or give others a chance.
Other options come in the shape of squad players who have only been on the periphery of the side so far, such as Yaya Touré and Eliaquim Mangala.
Elsewhere, players returning from injury also increase the strength in depth, and if he can stay fit it wouldn’t be a surprise to see İlkay Gündoğan being used as a regular member of the starting eleven in the near future.
Cup competitions provide an opportunity to rest players and also to give chances to some of the impressive youngsters coming through from the academy.
If the side progress in the League Cup then there will be opportunities for a number of those on the fringes of the first team as well as youth prospects Phil Foden, Brahim Diaz, Tosin Adarabioyo, and Oleksandr Zinchenko.
While an injury to a player such as Stones or De Bruyne would be a big test for the side, everything Guardiola has tried recently has come off, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them come through even the worst injury crisis.
Centre-back looks like it could potentially be a problem area, with Vincent Kompany out injured and Mangala not fancied, but you wouldn’t bet against the use of Danilo or another player being used at the back.
The evolution of the side throughout the season will be a big part of any success City have, as the players who have began the season spectacularly, and started most games, will either need a rest or be unavailable at some point.
Guardiola’s methods mean that players can shift into positions they might not normally be associated with, and this coupled with the large amounts of money spent building a squad filled with quality should mean that City go on to win the title this season thanks to their strength in depth.