Divine De Bruyne exposes inconvenient truth for Pep
So much for focusing on the simple things. Pep Guardiola’s suggestion that Kevin De Bruyne should stick to the basics was delivered on Monday and, it seemed, ignored in the Champions League on Tuesday. De Bruyne’s evening began with a 30-yard, outside-of-the-boot pass with which he almost took the entire
RB Leipzig defence out of the game. It ended with him, with a blend of power and curl, dispatching a shot from 20 yards into the top corner of their goal.
And in between came perhaps his most dramatic contribution of all, a thunderbolt against the bar with his less-favoured left foot, before Erling Haaland headed in the rebound. On a night when the Norwegian delivered the statistics, the Belgian produced the spectacular. He often does. Manchester City’s 7-0 evisceration of Leipzig was notable for two outstanding individual displays; one of a player who scored five goals in a game and one from a footballer who, until his injury-time effort, only had five all season.
If De Bruyne has concentrated more on supplying Haaland, the woodwork denied him an assist for the second goal. It was nevertheless made by him. In a sense, though, they are kindred spirits, the two odd men out, these two least Guardiola-esque of Guardiola players. Haaland is on course to score more goals in a season under Guardiola among everyone not called Lionel Messi. De Bruyne has played more games for the Catalan than anyone else.
Yet neither fits the pure Pep ethos. Xavi and Andres Iniesta did, bringing perpetual possession, So did Sergio Busquets, lending control at the base of the midfield. David Silva was the flair player who often did stick to the simple passes.
De Bruyne is more explosive. “Kevin is a player for the dynamics,” said Guardiola. That dynamism can make him best suited to end-to-end games, matches where there is plenty of space on the break. “We are so good when Kevin can get the ball in front of him towards the goal,” said Haaland. Maybe the philosophy of the Red Bull clubs makes them ideal opponents for De Bruyne. Certainly, it was a game to suit him. His manager was right to bring him back into the team.
“I’m going to discover Kevin De Bruyne?” Guardiola asked rhetorically. “After seven years together, I’m going to tell you how incredible he is?” And yet a reminder felt timely. Illness meant De Bruyne had missed the first leg with Leipzig but
Guardiola has left him on the bench for three of City’s last seven league games, even though the assist charts show he is the most creative player in the country.
Guardiola is the manager who prizes control and De Bruyne is the player who is likeliest to cede possession in a bid to do something special
“A fantastic, extraordinary player,” Guardiola added. “When he plays with that rhythm, he is able to score goals and make more assists. He is a guy who has to move, move, move. In that times, Kevin is unstoppable and hopefully he can realise for the future.”
For the second time in as many days, it felt as if Guardiola was being either needlessly critical or cleverly motivational. “You have to understand his quality,” he added. “When it happens, the assists come free, the goals come free. He doesn’t do that after the amount of balls he lost to give up transitions for the opponents. He doesn’t make assists or goals.”
That fits with his thinking. He is the manager who prizes control and De Bruyne is the player who is likeliest to cede possession in a bid to do something special. More than anything, it seems Guardiola fears transitions, the quick breaks that have caused City’s undoing on plenty of occasions, often in the Champions League.
And yet Guardiola appeared to again argue that De Bruyne should be safer in his choice of passes, that he ought to be less ambitious. “When Kevin is right, left, moving here, close to central defenders to set the ball, in the box arrive, make the
transitions, Kevin is ‘hats off’,” he said. “But he has to realise. Because when that happens, he doesn’t lose balls.”
But the inconvenient reality for Guardiola is that De Bruyne does lose the ball; he does in his best games, too, on the occasions when he creates and scores. He has the blend of urgency and extreme talent that enables him to envision the exceptional and believe he can execute it. Against Leipzig, he had the second-lowest pass completion rate among the 16 players Guardiola used, above only Haaland.
Indeed, in the entire City squad, De Bruyne has the secondlowest completion rate for short passes all season; perhaps he just isn’t good at the simple things. But the fact that only Ederson and Rodri have completed more long passes and that no one, on average, shoots from further out, are signs he takes risks in the search for high rewards.
And the manager sometimes prefers Bernardo Silva, a master in the pockets in the close confines when games are cramped, and Ilkay Gundogan, who he described as City’s best midfielder this season. He got all three in the side against Leipzig, with Silva on the right wing, De Bruyne displaying his passing range and crossing ability as an inside-right and the player closest to Haaland. “I have a lot of information all of you don’t have,” said Guardiola, a 7-0 win allowing him to show off. “Today I am right.”
Want your views to be included in The Independent Daily Edition letters page? Email us by tapping here firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your address
BACK TO TOP