Kevin De Bruyne injured: How will Man City cope without their talisman

By Sports Desk January 23, 2021

Pep Guardiola did not see the point in sugar coating the news that Manchester City will be without Kevin De Bruyne for between four to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

"It is [a huge blow] but we have to move forward," he said after confirming the extent of the setback for the Belgium international.

"He has an important part of the season out and we have to find a solution."

Handily for Guardiola, having the likes of Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden to choose from within his creative department means such solutions are - in theory at least - close at hand.

Here, we will examine how well equipped City are to face a run of fixtures including games against Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Borussia Monchengladbach and possibly Manchester United without their star midfielder.

Kevin the kingpin

Even when acknowledging City's enviable squad depth and Guardiola's career-long emphasis on the importance of the collective, De Bruyne's individual contribution throughout the Catalan's Etihad Stadium tenure is a heavy one.

Across 204 appearances since Guardiola took over at the start of the 2016-17 season, De Bruyne has supplied 88 assists - one every 2.3 matches.

Those come from 592 chances created, an average of one per 26.3 minutes.

David Silva is next with 365 opportunities created, with his 47 assists over the period in question second to Raheem Sterling (54).

Basically, daylight is second to De Bruyne in those and a host of other categories.

He has created 138 "big chances", according to Opta, with Sterling (73) and Silva (47) up next.

De Bruyne's 2,015 passes into the penalty area, including crosses, are more than double the amount attempted by any other player during the Guardiola era.

Keeping standards high

Although City finished a distant second to Liverpool in the Premier League last season and bowed out of the Champions League with a dispiriting quarter-final loss to Lyon, De Bruyne was named both PFA Players' Player of the Year and UEFA Midfielder of the Season.

He equalled the Premier League record of 20 assists in a season in 2019-20 and already has 10 this time around, with that figure rising to 15 in all competitions.

Once again, he leads the way for City in terms of chances created (73), big chances created (21) and passes into the penalty area (209).

Sterling (six assists), Riyad Mahrez (45 chances created and 106 passes into the box), are next best in those categories, again demonstrating the how central De Bruyne is to City as an attacking force.

Had De Bruyne been struck down when Guardiola's men were limping through the early weeks of the season, it might have cut off any title bid in its infancy.

However, the manager now has a number of other midfielders stepping up in impressive fashion.

Bernardo is back

Perhaps the most reassuring development for City this week came in the immediate aftermath of his injury.

The game was all square at 0-0 when he departed, Bernardo Silva dropped back to his team-mate's role on the right of the midfield three and promptly thrashed into the top corner to break the deadlock.

"He's back," Guardiola said defiantly of the Portugal playmaker on Friday.

"He struggled last season - maybe for the lack of minutes I gave him or maybe because he was not like him. Always he has been so important for me, for all of us."

Bernardo being "back" is a message understood loud and clear by regular City observers. It means the player who scooped the club's player of the year award when they won an unprecedented domestic treble in 2018-19; a player who has been difficult to spot for much of the subsequent 18 months.

Arguably the most impressive element of that trophy-laden campaign, when City pipped Liverpool to Premier League glory with 98 points to their rivals' 97, is they were without De Bruyne for large chunks of it.

The former Wolfsburg man twice sustained knee ligament damage before a calf strain kept him out for a key stretch of the run-in.

Bernardo's versatility is what makes him a Guardiola favourite, but playing for much of the season in De Bruyne's midfield berth, he registered 13 goals and as many assists in all competitions - a career best return for the ex-Monaco favourite.

The goal against Aston Villa was the 26-year-old's first in the Premier League this year and another drought would be deeply unhelpful as De Bruyne looks on, even though midfield goals have been flying in from elsewhere.

Gundogan and Foden in the goals

Gundogan rounded off the scoring from the penalty spot in midweek and will probably retain duties from 12 yards with De Bruyne out, having scored four out of five at City.

The Germany international is on a hot streak in front of goal since a torpid 0-0 draw at Manchester United in December persuaded Guardiola to tweak his formation and allow Gundogan more attacking license from central midfield.

Five in his past seven Premier League games is part of an all-competitions tally of seven - already the best single-season return of the 30-year-old's career.

Goalscoring is one area where De Bruyne has been under par this year. Two of his three Premier League goals are penalties, and his solitary strike from open play is the yield from 57 shots with an expected goals (xG) value of 5.1.

Gundogan (four open play Premier League goals, xG 2.7) is out-performing his xG almost as impressively as Foden (four open play Premier League goals, xG 2.5).

The England playmaker is level on eight with Raheem Sterling as City's top scorer in all competitions this season and has excelled in a left-wing role over recent weeks.

Like Bernardo, Foden's preference would probably be to operate in De Bruyne's favourite position but he has repaid both the faith of Guardiola and the clamour from City fans for him to start Premier League games more regularly.

City's overall statistics in the eight top-flight matches where Foden has made the XI this season are similar to the 10 when he did not, with a 62.5 per cent win ratio set against 60 per cent falling slightly in the hometown hero's favour.

However, they are considerably more active in front of goal when Foden starts, averaging 19.3 shots per game as opposed to 13.7.

The man himself has plenty to do with such an upturn if his five shots and six chances created against Villa are anything to go by - his most shot involvements in a single Premier League game.

Replacing De Bruyne's similarly weighty numbers in other areas is a task almost certainly beyond any individual at City but, with Bernardo, Gundogan and Foden among the collective, Guardiola has ample talent to keep his team's title challenge on track.

Related items

  • Chelsea boss Tuchel surprised by controversy: It wasn't a penalty Chelsea boss Tuchel surprised by controversy: It wasn't a penalty

    Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he is "surprised" at the reaction to Manchester United not being awarded a penalty in Sunday's scoreless Premier League draw.

    United were left aggrieved following the denial of a first-half spot-kick as Chelsea and the visiting Red Devils produced a 0-0 stalemate at Stamford Bridge.

    In the first half, referee Stuart Attwell checked on the pitchside monitor to see if a penalty should have been awarded to United when a bouncing ball struck the raised hand of Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was tussling with Mason Greenwood.

    Attwell stuck with his initial decision not to give the spot-kick and, much to the frustration of United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and full-back Luke Shaw.

    Afterwards, Tuchel – just the second manager to see his side keep a clean sheet in his first four home matches in the Premier League after Brendan Rodgers with Swansea City in 2011-12 – told reporters: "For me it was no penalty. I was surprised and I'm still surprised [at the reaction].

    "I didn't see it live where the penalty should come from, and when we checked on the pictures we have I couldn't see any incident that should qualify as a penalty. Until now I don't know why it should be a penalty."

    It was another 0-0 affair between Chelsea and United – both matches in a league season failing to yield goals for just the second time after 1921-22.

    Chelsea are unbeaten since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard – the Blues in the midst of a 10-match undefeated streak across all competitions.

    Tuchel's Chelsea are fifth in the Premier League, one point adrift of the top four, six points behind second-placed United and 18 adrift of runaway leaders Manchester City through 26 rounds.

    "It would have been a big result. We tried everything to win, to be prepared for no other intention but to win," Tuchel said. "We are in the middle of a battle to the top four.

    "We have closed the gap quickly and now is the moment to hang in and to show performances every three or four days.

    "I feel the team is very competitive and difficult to play against. We will be able to win games. We are still in the battle and that's the good news."

  • Morikawa follows in Tiger's footsteps with WGC-Workday Championship title Morikawa follows in Tiger's footsteps with WGC-Workday Championship title

    Collin Morikawa added the WGC-Workday Championship to his growing list of achievements after triumphing by three strokes.

    Winner of last year's U.S. PGA Championship, Morikawa used a three-under-par 69 to seal victory at the star-studded World Golf Championships event in Florida ahead of Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka and Billy Horschel on Sunday.

    Morikawa holed four birdies and just one bogey to finish 18 under for his fourth PGA Tour crown – the most by any player currently aged under 25.

    He also joins Tiger Woods as the only player to win a major championship and WGC event before turning 25.

    Further to that feat, Morikawa is the seventh player to claim four or more PGA Tour tournaments – including a major – under the age of 25, following in the footsteps of Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Jerry Pate.

    The overnight leader by two strokes, Morikawa recovered from a slow start after bogeying his second hole of the final round – the 24-year-old American birdieing three of five holes before the turn as he ended the day without dropping another shot.

    Norwegian star Hovland mounted a serious title charge following a five-under par 67, but he was unable to stop Morikawa.

    Hovland finished tied for second alongside four-time major champion Koepka (70) and Horschel (70) at The Concession Golf Club.

    McIlroy's final-round 71 saw the former world number one and four-time major winner slip down into a tie for sixth, six strokes adrift of Morikawa.

    Defending champion Patrick Reed (72) ended the co-sanctioned PGA and European Tour tournament a shot further back.

    Justin Thomas (71) earned a share of 15th at eight under, a stroke better off than U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau (69).

    It was a forgettable finish for world number one Dustin Johnson, who closed proceedings with a six-over-par 78.

    The two-time tournament winner plummeted 12 positions to T54 at five over the card.

  • Aguero to be managed closely as Guardiola hails seemingly outgoing Garcia Aguero to be managed closely as Guardiola hails seemingly outgoing Garcia

    Pep Guardiola will manage Sergio Aguero carefully, as he explained the difficulties of keeping each player in his Manchester City squad satisfied.

    City made it 20 successive wins in all competitions on Saturday, as they edged past West Ham 2-1 in the Premier League thanks to goals from defenders Ruben Dias and John Stones.

    Aguero made just his fourth start of the season in total – and his first since October – with the City great, who is out of contract at the end of 2020-21, having struggled with injuries through the course of the campaign.

    The 32-year-old failed to have an attempt and created just one chance before he was taken off in the 61st minute, having had 32 touches – less than any other outfield player to have started the game for City.

    Guardiola, however, insisted Aguero will need time to pick up his sharpness, though the striker's minutes will have to be managed precisely. 

    "Sergio has been out for more than a year, he played cup games but got injured again, then it was surgery," Guardiola told a news conference.

    "With Sergio, at this part of this season, having that special talent and special quality is going to help.

    "So it's good that he played 60 minutes, that's good for his legs. In the next games, we might need him for 10, 15 minutes or from the beginning. 

    "It's not easy for him but he just has to play better and better and he can help us in the sense of his ability."

    Guardiola concedes Aguero wants to play more, but reiterated that he has to balance his squad, namechecking Eric Garcia, whose stay at City is set to end at the culmination of the campaign.

    Barcelona have been heavily linked with a move for the 20-year-old, who ended last season as the club's first-choice centre-back alongside Aymeric Laporte.

    Garcia has made just three league appearances this season, and last featured for City in an FA Cup win over Swansea City in early February.

    "There are other players who want to play too, so I know Sergio is so important for us. What he has done for this club – he has scored the most important goal for us," Guardiola continued.

    "We want to help him and see him good but, at the same time, Raheem [Sterling] didn't start, Phil [Foden], Bernardo [Silva] didn't. So I try to handle it so everyone can be involved.

    "You cannot imagine how I feel about Eric Garcia, he's like a son. Last season, during lockdown he was the best defender that we had.

    "He'd never make a mistake like Ruben, John and Aymeric have not this season. He was the reason we qualified for the Champions League, clubs like Bayern and Barcelona wanted him and that's not because he was an average player.

    "In the last two games he was not selected, that's why it's difficult to put all of the players in. Players have to be patient and at the end all you judge is the performance. If the players are performing well they will have more chance to play again."

    Asked if sentiment will come into play with Aguero's game time as his time at City potentially draws to a close, Guardiola replied: "From day one, my message here is what happened before is over – we learn from this and onto the next one.

    "It's not just for Sergio, it's for everyone. I think about who is best in this position, who is in the best condition. If I am fair to one player, I am unfair to another one, that is the difficulty.

    "Now it's for him to prepare if we need him, at the end there will be games that are tough and difficult and we will need a goal! Who is the best guy to do that – it's him.

    "Every player needs time, especially him but everyone needs time. We have trophies to fight for, soon we'll be going to Goodison Park for a quarter-final, the second leg of the Champions League. 

    "Many nice things to fight for and everyone needs to be ready."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.