Analysing Kevin De Bruyne's mesmerising performance in Man City's 4-0 victory over Bournemouth
When Manchester City paid £55 million for Kevin De Bruyne in August 2015, they did so in the knowledge that they would be receiving one of the world’s best players. His impressive performances last campaign showed that the fee was probably justified, however, for many observers, it was difficult to shake the feeling that the limitations of his team-mates were preventing him from reaching an even greater level.
Following the arrival of Pep Guardiola this summer, De Bruyne; and indeed his City team-mates, have stepped up another level, topping the Premier League with five wins from their opening five games. The Belgian midfielder has contributed two goals and three assists so far and appears to be relishing playing under the former Barcelona boss. After yet another standout display in a 4-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, Guardiola claimed that the midfielder ranks just behind Lionel Messi as one of the greatest players he has worked with during his career.
The 25-year-old started the game promisingly, with an early shot testing the fingertips of Artuc Boruc in the Cherries goal. He then opened the scoring for City, cleverly drilling a low free-kick beneath the wall and into the bottom left corner of the Bournemouth goal.
If De Bruyne had made a mockery of the opposition defence with this cunning finish, then the swiftness of the counter-attack for Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal, which gave Guardiola’s side a 2-0 lead, made them look even more helpless. As City broke, in the aftermath of a wasteful Bournemouth free-kick, De Bruyne surged through the middle of the pitch before taking two defenders out of the game with an inch-perfect pass into the feet of Raheem Sterling, who squared for Iheanacho to slot home from six yards.
The game was more or less over after the interval when Sterling found the net himself, stretching City’s lead to three goals. Again, De Bruyne was involved, receiving a pass from Iheanacho just inside his own half, before turning and running at the Bournemouth back-line. As the defenders retreated towards their own goal, the former Wolfsburg midfielder took his time before picking out the run of Iheanacho who, in a role reversal of the previous goal, returned the favour for Sterling to finish from inside the six-yard box.
The young forwards may have been taking all the credit, but the main driving force behind both goals was quite clearly De Bruyne. The vision, timing and weight of the defence-splitting passes were characteristic of a world-class midfielder, and displayed a maturity and patience that sets him apart from the rest. Nine Premier League assists was a respectable amount last term, and whilst he looks capable of improving that tally significantly this season, it is the assist before the assist which the Belgian international excels at best.
All of the aforementioned qualities were apparent again in the 66th minute, when he teed up his new midfield partner, Ilkay Gundogan, to seal a resounding victory. As City attacked down the right-hand side, De Bruyne displayed quick feet and good movement to find space to cut inside, before splitting the Bournemouth defence with yet another pin-point pass, presenting Gundogan with an easy finish.
The goal may have looked fairly simple for City to score but that was only because the quality of the assist made it so. When De Bruyne cut inside with the ball, Gundogan instantly set off to run in behind the defence; watching it back, it is clear that he knew exactly what his teammate was going to do, despite this being just the second time they have played together. As the German midfielder bursts into the space developing between the two centre-backs, De Bruyne bides his time yet again before playing a perfectly weighted pass to set up the goal on a plate for his team-mate.
After a goal and an assist in last week’s Manchester derby, it was another hugely influential contribution from De Bruyne on Saturday afternoon. City have been excellent this campaign with a whole host of players having improved massively. Still, alongside Sergio Aguero, De Bruyne remains the heartbeat of the side, the man who makes them tick. When operating at his best, he is simply a joy to watch.
Like all of the best players, De Bruyne appears to interpret the game in a completely different way to everybody else on the pitch. Whilst Guardiola’s comments that he is as good as the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta are likely to be sneered at by many, the City boss was presumably alluding to the quality that the three share of being so gifted that, at times, they appear to be able to slow the game down in their heads and see everything in slow-motion.
Of course, comparisons to such footballing greats are futile for a player that, to date, can only count the League Cup and the German Cup as his major honours. However, the way that both he and his teammates have begun this season suggests that he may well add to this tally soon, and if his performance on Saturday was anything to go by then he may well be City’s key man this campaign.
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