He may be second fiddle to the more experienced David Silva at Manchester City, but Silva’s absence means that Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal at Real Madrid could be the making of De Bruyne as one of the best players in the Premier League.
Kevin De Bruyne has followed the path of Romelu Lukaku, Andre Schurrle and Daniel Sturridge as players sold by Chelsea who have gone on to flourish at other clubs. His direct running, ability to put in a through ball for Sergio Aguero on a regular basis as well as to chip in by scoring goals of his own has made him a crucial player for Manchester City this season. His return from two months out due to injury has coincided with a sudden upturn in form for City at just the right time – while the club is currently in the midst of it’s biggest games ever.
David Silva’s injury and Pellegrini’s dilemma
Injury to David Silva in the first half of City’s home leg last week was crucial in preventing City from scoring a home win to put themselves in the driver’s seat. Kevin De Bruyne started the game as a No 10, but Raheem Sterling’s poor form meant that De Bruyne was pushed to the wing for most of the game. He was not nearly as effective in trying to cut in from the left, hence resulting in Aguero not getting the service he needed.
Kevin De Bruyne starting and finishing as a No 10 could well make a crucial difference for City, but the lack of options available to Manchester City at this time do not make this a clear cut decision. Raheem Sterling has been in poor form for some time, while Jesus Navas was not effective against Real Madrid last week.
Furthermore, Yaya Toure is now available for Manchester City after being passed fit on Monday. Toure is the only player currently on the City squad to have won the Champions League before, and his ability to contribute with surging runs while often neglecting the defensive side of the game could make it a choice between Toure and De Bruyne for the role of a No 10 on Wednesday night.
Facing Real at the Bernabeu makes it a different game for City
In needing to avoid defeat to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu for a place in the Champions League final, Manchester City face a unique challenge. Real Madrid are one of Europe’s most dangerous teams on the counter attack. However, they will be playing a more possession oriented game given they are at home. Hence the longer Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi keep Real at bay at the Bernabeu, the more likely City are going to get opportunities to counter Real themselves. Opportunities will not come easy for City, hence the onus will be on Kevin De Bruyne to ensure that Serigo Aguero up front has chances to put the tie to bed completely.
City’s worst case scenario, however, will involve the concession of an early goal at Madrid. Not only will this result in Manchester City being left open at the back in search of an equaliser/winner, it also results in them needing to play a more possession oriented game as they attempt to progress to the Champions League final. The injured David Silva is usually the conductor of the orchestra, as it were, when City need to keep possession, slow the game down and find openings in packed defenses. However, the absence of Silva makes De Bruyne the main man on Wednesday. Supplying Sergio Aguero possibly from the left wing against Real Madrid may be the toughest test yet in Kevin De Bruyne’s career so far.
Pep Guardiola and De Bruyne’s future
Bayern Munich may have either already qualified for the Champions League final, or may be licking their wounds at the end of another imperfect season by the time City take to the field on Wednesday night. Irrespective of the result of their second leg against Atletico Madrid, incoming Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be watching Manchester City on Wednesday, in order to satisfy his curiosity, if nothing else.
Unlike with Bayern Munich, Guardiola will not be taking a break in between jobs. Hence, contrary to his previous assertions that he was not going to be distracted by his next assignment, there is no doubt that Pep will need to think about his future squad well in advance. Besides the need to finalize a partner for Vincent Kompany, as well as finding a potential replacement for Yaya Toure, Guardiola will also want to think about whom he should build City’s attacking unit around.
Guardiola may be forever associated with the tiki-taka that Barcelona were famous for, but during his three seasons at Bayern Munich, he has gone through an evolution – from attempting to bring in a Spanish influence into Bavaria, to altering his stock formation to one that enables Bayern to play with a speed that is difficult to match. Hence, while David Silva may possibly be the old Guardiola’s favourite player, there is a possibility that the need for pace, power and speed of thought in the Premier League makes Kevin De Bruyne the main man in the future. The Belgian midfielder’s two month injury may have been as much a reason for City’s poor form as the announcement of Guardiola joining the club soon, and an impactful performance at the Bernabeu could well shape Kevin De Bruyne’s place in the next phase of Manchester City’s history.