What does Kevin De Bruyne's injury mean for Manchester City?
Life's never more dangerous than when you’re on top. Manchester City discovered the truth in that proverb this week. Riding high after dispatching Chelsea in the Community Shield, then Arsenal on opening day, the juggernaut was primed to keep steamrolling. Then Kevin de Bruyne picked up an injury in training. The Belgian's expected to miss three months. The reigning champions have hit the first hurdle in their title defence.
Losing De Bruyne is a massive blow to Pep Guardiola. He was the figurative heartbeat of the team that broke records with ease in the Premier League last term. He set a new mark for matches won by a player in a season (31), proving how integral he is to this Manchester City side.
Last year he was phenomenal from day one, ending City's campaign with 12 goals and 21 assists in all competitions. His 16 assists in the league saw him top the domestic chart and sit joint-top across UEFA's top leagues. He played the second-most Premier League key passes per game last season and formed the third deadliest partnership in the league with Sergio Aguero. That's the huge hole Guardiola must fill. KDB's the last player Manchester City want to leave behind for any stretch during their title defence.
De Bruyne was in the conversation surrounding the Premier League's best in 2017/18, beaten to the crown by Mo Salah’s scoring feats. Replacing him will be difficult even for a manager as talented as Guardiola.
Fortunately, the Catalan boss assembled a squad of which most gaffers can merely dream. He has solutions.
The first option is Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder struggled to break through last season, managing a full 90 minutes just nine times in the league. That said, he's a star player. De Bruyne’s injury provides the 24-year-old an opportunity to stake a claim for more regular football. A quick-thinking playmaker with an eye for a key pass, he's also adept at holding the ball. Silva possesses all the attributes to fill the void.
He's not up to KDB's level yet. A regular run in the side could bring him closer. He proved he can hit the required standard during his time with Monaco. In his final Les Monagasques season, he managed 11 assists and eight goals in Ligue 1. With the talent around him at City, it’s easy to envision him matching those numbers in England.
There's also Phil Foden. With De Bruyne out and Silva replacing him, the youngster can offer a rotation option for the Portuguese midfielder. At 18, he's already shown his potential. Increased game time in the City side can help him realise his talent. Suggesting he can replace De Bruyne is foolish but he offers ample back up to Silva.
Then there's summer signing Riyad Mahrez. He doesn't fit into central midfield but can fill the right wing void if Bernardo Silva moves inside. Last season, the Algerian scored 12 goals and 11 assists for Claude Puel's far from exciting Leicester City squad. He's a creative force on his day and thus offers City another option. Like Silva, it's easy to see Mahrez racking up similar if not better numbers at the Etihad.
Mahrez, Silva and Foden have enough about them to lessen the blow dealt by De Bruyne's loss. If they can't, City still employ David Silva, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and several other stars who can share the load.
Of course, the Belgian's absence hands impetus to challengers seeking to knock City off their perch, but his injury's not the end of the world. Guardiola still boasts a world-class team with top-level players ready to fill the void. Now is their chance.