Fit Kevin de Bruyne makes life easier for Pep Guardiola
Background image: Cleria de Souza, CC by 2.0
Manchester City haven't been too busy in the transfer market. Rodri’s club-record £63 million move from Atletico Madrid is the only big business set in stone at the moment, although Joao Cancelo's £27.5 million + Danilo purchase may have been consummated by the time you read this. When you've won the Premier League in back-to-back campaigns and done a domestic treble, it's not like you need to overhaul the roster.
Tweaking is the word. Further tweaking of the minor variety included another left-back, Angelino, from PSV Eindhoven and goalkeeper Zack Steffan from MLS side Colombus Crew. Chances of either breaking into the senior team are minimal. When you look at the squad depth the defending Premier League champions boast, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that young players aren't getting many opportunities.
City is so deep that they really didn't miss Kevin de Bruyne when he suffered yet another injury last term. His play in preseason friendlies reveals him to be in peak form, bringing more excitement to fans than any signing. When in possession of his full powers, he is a nightmare for opponents. Last season, though, the bad dreams were all his. De Bruyne suffered one knock after another, making for a stop-start season.
Does the fact City's unprecedented dominance in English football came largely without the Belgian say more about the players at Pep Guardiola's disposal or his tactical prowess? Perhaps a bit of both. As he did in the record-breaking 2017/18 season, KDB is again now ready to deploy as Pep’s special weapon.
Notwithstanding his direct goal contribution [11G, 15A] in that double-century season [points and goals], de Bruyne’s orchestration and off-the-ball movement raised his game. He produced the most through-balls in the Premier League, ranked high-up in City’s passing stats and influenced City's progress in ways that had Guardiola gushing to reporters throughout the campaign.
Fate has a way of keeping you in check, however. Or maybe the football gods decided it was just too easy for the Sky Blues with the pale prince pulling strings. After a goal and a handful of pre-season assists, fans are hoping the unseen forces stop meddling.
Like the Silvas, Bernardo and David, he's a perfect midfielder for Pep's system. All three are versatile, adapting to whatever the situation demands. Staying in line with Pep’s philosophy, De Bruyne is rarely dispossessed, often orchestrating quick breaks and working the ball into the box. He makes it all look easy too. He likes inverse movement. His penchant for cutting inside troubled Liverpool throughout the Community Shield.
That said, he's anything but predictable. If Raheem Sterling is making a clever run through on goal, he’s the one to find him with an incisive pass. The same applies to Sergio Aguero. In addition, he's developed a chemical relationship with Bernardo Silva, each playing off the other to find the open spaces Guardiola sends them out to hunt.
There is one trophy the Citizens haven't bagged. The Champions League still eludes them. If they are to finally run down that title, they'll need their best player fit and firing throughout the 2019/20 campaign and make no mistake; Kevin de Bruyne is Manchester City's best player.