FootballPremier League

Why Manchester City are infinitely better with their direct director Kevin De Bruyne

April 15, 2019

GABRIEL Jesus’ late clincher at Selhurst Park this weekend was Manchester City’s 150th goal this season. That’s a staggering haul equating to just shy of three per game. That’s six off breaking yet another record. Barcelona, by comparison, have scored 122.

When revisiting this deluge it soon becomes clear that, barring the occasional individual wonder-wallop and unremarkable header so many of them fall into two categories that often merge together for the grand finale.

There is the creation of over-loads that leads to a City player reaching the by-line and cutting it back or across goal for a straightforward tap-in. And then there’s the death by a thousand cuts approach designed to test an opposition’s concentration and shape through the application of patience. The latter is deceptively simple, hypnotically so, while the wide exchanges are all about sharp rondo passing and whip-smart movement. Both have considerable aesthetic merit

The Brazilian’s 19th goal of the campaign, however, didn’t fit either of these procedures. It dispensed with beauty and nuance because now the securement of three points is the be all and end all. The time for writing sonnets and swishing your hair around like Lord Byron is over and the whispering of sweet nothings is an autumnal luxury.  Now City are clocking in and going to work.

With Crystal Palace in search of an equaliser, the ball broke to Kevin De Bruyne who strode into rare acres of space and waited for the opportune moment to set up Jesus. He then watched on as his team-mate did the rest. One, two, three quick touches; a pass, control, then deciding shot. Job done.

Earlier in the contest, the Belgian was similarly to the point. Gaining possession inside his own half he fired a dissecting pass through to Raheem Sterling who put the visitors in front with a sublime arcing strike.

The return to prominence of City’s architect-in-chief after a horrendous season of injuries is an enormous fillip at this late juncture and De Bruyne’s performance was rightfully the main talking point post-game. On MOTD2 and elsewhere it was highlighted how he raises an already extraordinary side to higher heights through his artistry and work-rate and it was noted too how crucial it might be that he is back to his best with a defining Spurs double-header looming.

What wasn’t mentioned though was the most meaningful contribution that the brilliant Belgian brings to the party; a third dimension to City’s creativity that amounts to directness.

To state that he is direct seems like sacrilege considering the incredible assists we have seen from him down the years. “He has the ability and the vision to see passes the rest of us human beings can't see,” Pep Guardiola enthused in South London and when acknowledging that the mind drifts back to his miraculous reverse release of Sane against Stoke in 2016/17. There De Bruyne made a mistake: he was Clark Kent taking his glasses off in the Daily Planet newsroom and revealing himself not to be a human being at all.

Despite all this, he is still direct and that’s because it is meant in the thoroughly modern way, not the slight typically reserved for long-ball merchants of yesteryear. If B is possible to get to from A then De Bruyne takes it and his expertly executed through-ball to Sterling on Sunday is the perfect illustration of this. In the same situation would either of the Silvas committed to that risk? Or would they have slowed down play and knocked it five yards in-field?

Even ignoring his sheer quality to have such a player in this Manchester City set-up is substantial with benefits galore. It means that the opposition defence never settle because they know that De Bruyne seventy yards back is just as capable of threading the ball into a dangerous area as someone like Hazard is on the edge of the box. More so the City forwards make their runs with real purpose instead of out of obligation as possession is retained behind them. It enlivens them and when it doesn’t enliven them – as was the case with Sergio Aguero on Sunday who failed to anticipate an erudite cross – De Bruyne tears a strip off them.

Ultimately then, by varying his play he panics defences and keeps strikers on their toes and this can only be advantageous to City’s two entrusted formulas to attack.

This isn’t the biggest plus though; not at this ultra-tight, highly pressurised stage of the season. While City are spoilt with clever locksmiths in Kevin de Bruyne they possess a player who knows that sometimes it is best to walk right through before the key even has a chance to turn.