Does De Bruyne make City a serious Champions League Contender?

Over the past few seasons, Manchester City has been a constant title challenger, finishing in the top 5 every season since 2009, and raising the trophy twice in three years. Despite large amounts of domestic success, the Sky Blues have struggled to duplicate their triumphs on the international stage in the Champions League. Over their last 4 runs in Europe, City has failed to make it past the round of 16, even losing in the Group Stage two years in a row. This season they have a challenge looming over them by being placed in a group with Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and last year’s runners up, Juventus. However, after their tremendous start to the premier league season, and some solid signings over the summer window, it is quite believable that Manchester City could make a serious run for the Champions League trophy this season.

When looking at the squad on paper, it is hard to see why City has not had much success in Europe. They have had tough groups, meeting Bayern three times, and having Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the 2012-13 season. But simply watching Manchester City, they look to be a completely different team on the field when playing a team from outside of England. They don’t match the familiar tempo that Premiership sides struggle to handle. Players like Yaya Toure, Kompany and Aguero don’t light up the opposition in the way fans are used to seeing domestically, even when playing at the Etihad. They don’t play with the same confidence, Toure often seems timid, and Kompany makes mistakes that aren’t expected from the veteran center back.

It is unlikely that there is just one simple fix that will bring City from an underwhelming side to title contenders, but its possible that this season, a few factors will culminate and bring City a glimpse of the success they have been striving for since first entering European competition. One major factor for their success could be the signing of the young Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg. At first glance, there seems to be a bit of an issue as De Bruyne played in the number 10 spot behind the strikers for Wolfsburg, and David Silva has been playing in that position for City, and has often been one of the best players in light blue. If the two were forced to compete for the position, then the team would not be as heavily improved as it would be if both players find a way into the lineup. The solution to this would be to slot one of the players in at the number 10 spot, and to play the other out wide.

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Both Silva and De Bruyne have experience playing in the wide position for their countries, Spain and Belgium respectively. Recently, Silva played a fantastic forty-yard cross to the head of Jordi Alba for an opening goal, so its clear that he is still a very effective player playing wide. Additionally, during City versus Watford, once David was moved from his central position to play out right he had an immediate impact and helped contribute to both goals. In his last 21 appearances for Belgium, KDB has delivered a goal or an assist on average every 109 minutes. His impact on the Manchester side could be immediate. Starting position is not a huge deal for City as they play in a very fluid manner, and so both players are likely to play in each position, swapping and moving around often.

Another key player that can factor into European success is the young Raheem Sterling. So far this campaign, City has been playing more high pressure, faster paced football that we don’t see them play in Europe. Their new style is reminiscent of Barcelona last season, who won the Treble. Constant pressure on the player with the ball, many attempts to tackle and win the ball and counterattacks are a few aspects of the style. Thanks to the signing of De Bruyne and Sterling, two young, very fast, tenacious players who will tackle, win the ball and punish the defense of any side they face. In addition to these new men arriving, Kompany and Toure both seem to have regained some of their form we are used to seeing, large physical presence and solid play. There are a lot of factors in the mix that seem to point to this being the year were City finally makes themselves a force to be reckoned with on the European Stage.

Featured image: all rights reserved by Erik Drost.

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