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