Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

They shone even with­out Kev

Let’s see how they do with­out him”… “He is such a big loss for the Blues”… “The rest of the Pre­mier League should take ad­van­tage of this”… Th­ese were typ­i­cal quotes from foot­ball fans and pun­dits when Kevin De Bruyne suf­fered what looked to be a long-term knee in­jury in train­ing. And, yes, let’s not get this wrong – any team in world foot­ball would be weak­ened with the ab­sence of the Bel­gian mid­fielder. But this isn’t any other team on the earth at the mo­ment. This is a team stacked with the best of qual­ity. A team that show no sign of halt­ing in their quest for back-to­back Pre­mier League ti­tles – with or with­out the num­ber 17. Since De Bruyne’s in­jury, Manch­ester City had won four out of five games in the league, draw­ing one against a cer­tain Liver­pool at An­field – yet that was the most im­pres­sive dis­play so far this sea­son. To think last cam­paign, even the Eti­had out­fit with De Bruyne against Liver­pool, strug­gled. They were vul­ner­a­ble in the mid­field, they weren’t quick enough, and they were ha­rassed at ev­ery sec­ond when the ball was at their feet. City had more mo­ments in at­tack than the Reds did this time around, and ended their An­field los­ing streak, but who was in mid­field? – Fer­nand­inho, Bernardo Silva and David Silva. Small, but my word… tricky, in­tri­cate and all with a low cen­tre of grav­ity – yet the phys­i­cal mid­field bat­tle was in City’s favour all game. They pressed, and they put more than a chal­lenge in.

De­fen­sively, they looked solid with John Stones and Aymeric La­porte at cen­tre-back, when Vin­cent Kom­pany and Ni­co­las Ota­mendi seemed the likely choices be­fore the teams were an­nounced.

In the Carabao Cup, although the op­po­nent was League One Ox­ford United, at­tack­ing mid­fielder and now fifth­choice left-back Oleskan­der Zinchenko put in an in­stru­men­tal dis­play, re­plac­ing the in­jured Ben­jamin Mendy and Fabian Delph.

Weeks pre­vi­ous, the away trip against a tough and phys­i­cal Cardiff City, which fin­ished 5-0 to the Blues, pro­duced a man of the match dis­play from Ilkay Gun­do­gan – yes… re­mem­ber him?

He starts, he as­sists two goals and scores a blinder from 30 yards out. A top-class dis­play, good enough for any top team.

Yet, the Ger­man never gets a look-in – when the mid­field starters are David Silva and De Bruyne.

Go­ing into the re­cent in­ter­na­tional break, City sat at the sum­mit of the league ta­ble on goal dif­fer­ence, ahead of Chelsea and Liver­pool.

If we’re talk­ing about the linch­pins of those teams, take one player out of the front­line of Jurgen Klopp’s side in Sa­dio Mane, Mo­hamed Salah or Roberto Firmino and they would strug­gle.

Re­move Eden Haz­ard out of the Chelsea start­ing XI and they wouldn’t quite reach the heights they have so far this sea­son.

Eu­ro­pean-wise, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo’s move from Real Madrid to Ju­ven­tus has given Los Blan­cos a se­vere hang­over. They sat fourth in La Liga, and even CSKA Moscow man­aged a 1-0 win against them in the Cham­pi­ons League, with goal­keeper Igor Ak­in­feev keep­ing only his sec­ond clean-sheet in Eu­rope since 2006. Bay­ern Mu­nich are look­ing very aged un­der Niko Ko­vac and ap­pear to have no real squad depth. They were placed a lowly sixth in the Bun­desliga, with 35-year-old Franck Ribery and 33-yearold Ar­jen Robben still oc­cu­py­ing the wings, and they surely can’t keep play­ing ev­ery game? The point be­ing, City’s linch­pin has been miss­ing for most of the sea­son, and they are top with the most goals and the least con­ceded – and you could ar­gue that they have looked a lit­tle more con­ser­va­tive and less ag­gres­sive than last sea­son. Scary. There isn’t a team in the world at this mo­ment in time that have the op­tions in Gun­do­gan, the two Sil­vas, Phil Fo­den and even John Stones to come into the start­ing XI and show­case man of the match per­for­mances in mid­field – in the ab­sence of po­ten­tially the best mid­field player in the world (along­side Luka Mo­dric). Now the Bel­gian is back in ac­tion, it looks as though City will only get bet­ter and bet­ter as the sea­son moves along…

Blow: But Kevin De Bruyne is back from in­jury now

Classy: Bernardo Silva

Hot prospect: Phil Fo­den

Im­pact: Ilkay Gun­do­gan

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