“No, Kevin is so important for us that he won't rest. He rested in the Champions League previously and right now we need him.” – Pep Guardiola.
This isn’t Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering, world-dominating Manchester City team. No matter what their fans want to scream out loud or type furiously on Twitter, this is not that Guardiola team. The team that two years ago had fans of the other nineteen Premier League teams quivering in their boots. The team that not just broke records but shattered them for fun and then went out and broke a few more.
That ruthless Manchester City that never stopped going until the final whistle of the season, chasing after the 100 point mark like a deranged serial killer. Then came Liverpool, injuries and like always, time. No matter who the football manager is, what kind of football he plays or even the world class nature of his players, time always catches up and then takes them down. It happened to Arsene Wenger, it has happened to Jose Mourinho, it happened to Mauricio Pochettino and the list goes on.
Pep Guardiola hasn’t been exempted from it with his Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams eventually falling apart. The exact same thing has happened at Manchester City and so far, Guardiola has dealt it with well despite a few achingly bad results. That loss to Olympique Lyon last season had to have not just hurt him but absolutely destroyed a few players because that was their chance. It may have possibly been their last chance to lift a Champions League trophy with this particular group of players.
But Guardiola’s overcomplicate nature took over and we all know what happened next. And that brings us back to the fact, this is not Pep Guardiola’s all conquering, world dominating Manchester City team and if anything, this is Kevin De Bruyne’s team. Not that the Belgian has anything to do with running it or building it but essentially without him it falls apart. Exactly like Barcelona would do without Lionel Messi and that is never good for a football team.
Take a quick look at Manchester City’s squad and you’ll see a wide array of talented players. But can you honestly say, that they are even close to playing at the level that Kevin De Bruyne does? Ignore the defense or even that army of marauding 1 billion worth full-backs but go further forward. There’s no David Silva, both Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are showing their age, Raheem Sterling has hit his worst dip in form and neither Bernardo Silva nor Phil Foden seems to have Guardiola’s trust.
Then there’s Gabriel Jesus who really hasn’t lived up to his potential. Riyad Mahrez who seems out of sorts in this team and Ferran Torres is still figuring out himself. All that leaves is Kevin De Bruyne and the evidence is there for everybody to see, with it not a one-season problem. Last term, De Bruyne was dropped for one game, five games into the season, and Carrow Road was ecstatic because Norwich City had beaten Manchester City.
The Belgian didn’t start the game but was thrown on to turn the tide and it didn’t work. The same thing happened against Liverpool, a humbling 3-1 loss, and then Southampton post Project Restart and once again De Bruyne couldn’t save them. This is essentially a team that is very dependent on the 29-year-old and while only Harry Kane has more assists, no City player is even close to hitting double figures for goals in the league this term.
We need him. Kevin is one of the biggest stars in the world right now. He is an outstanding player and I know how important he is for us.
It’s completely unlike Pep Guardiola because the Spaniard has prided himself on being a “team before player” manager. His spells at Barcelona and Bayern prove that brilliantly with players tossed aside at the first sign of any attitude but there has been another feature of his side. They’ve always featured one truly great player with Lionel Messi at Barcelona before things changed at Bayern. There it was supposed to be Mario Gotze but injuries had other ideas with Thomas Muller picking up the slack.
At Manchester City, it has always been Kevin De Bruyne with the Belgian brought in for Guardiola. And the relationship has worked to a ‘T’ for both men but now, De Bruyne’s influence has taken over the team and essentially it leaves City hanging. It’s not the Belgian’s fault because there has been a clear sign of decline in this Manchester City for more than a year now. The statistics back that with City netting just the four goals in their last four league games.
Now that isn’t because of a lack of chances because they’ve created the second most clear-cut chances in the league but only nine of those have found the net. Things become even worse once you realise that City have a conversion rate of around 9.3% which simply adds to all the problems. It is only then one realises that Manchester City are at the end of this era with their players no longer capable of delivering elite level football anymore.
However, the moment you add De Bruyne to the mixture, the Belgian elevates the team to a level where they can compete with the best. Remove that one singular piece and the Cityzens don’t have enough to make do in his absence especially without David Silva and what is a fading Sergio Aguero. Phil Foden has shown signs of pure brilliance when given a chance but the same cannot be said about either Bernardo Silva or Gabriel Jesus anymore.
It’s high time Pep Guardiola changes that but there already seems to be change floating about at the Etihad and it’s starting from the back. For once in his career, Pep has been pragmatic with his approach to playing football although that could be put down to a sign of the times. Even then, defensively, Manchester City seems to have solved a lot of their problems with Ruben Dias and the John Stone anchor working rather well.
It has, however, seen Guardiola abandon his usual 4-3-3 for the more defensively inclined 4-2-3-1 where he plays two holding midfielders. That has handed the Cityzens the best defensive record in the Premier League (12) and five of those came against Leicester City. However, the Spaniard has never been known for his defensive prowess but his offensive and with an era coming to an end, Guardiola needs to figure out a solution that goes beyond “passing the ball to De Bruyne and hoping for the best.”
Because we are in uncharted waters where it concerns Guardiola because he’s moving towards his fifth year at a club for the first time in his career. He’s signed a contract until 2023 and it seems that Kevin De Bruyne is going to follow the same path but at 29, how much longer can he carry this team?