Kevin De Bruyne, poetry in motion, holds the key to Manchester City's title ambitions
Manchester City’s ruthless demolition of Stoke City at the Etihad was hailed by boss Pep Guardiola as their finest performance under his leadership.
The Cityzens maintained their unbeaten start to the season in all competitions and currently top the Premier League by two points from their Manchester rivals. Gabriel Jesus’ brace, alongside goals from Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Fernandinho, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva, secured the rout, which left Mark Hughes’ side shell-shocked.
Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, all the post-match talk centred on the virtuoso performance of Kevin De Bruyne, who conducted the orchestra with elegance and skill.
The Belgium playmaker was at his irresistible best and like many of his team-mates, he has taken his game to another level under Guardiola. Since making his City debut, no player has assisted more Premier League goals than De Bruyne. In a galaxy of stars, the 26-year-old has grown into the boss’s most trusted player and the cog around which City operate.
How fitting it was that, in his 100th appearance for Manchester City, De Bruyne produced a champagne display. Technically he laid on just two assists – but his class was stamped all over the performance.
He had been involved in the build-up to the opener before his audacious reverse pass cleared the path for Sane to square the ball to Sterling for the second.
The former Chelsea man then supplied a delicious cross for Jesus to add to his tally before the piece de resistance; a through ball of such precision that it split open an entire defence, enabling Sane to finish without breaking stride.
De Bruyne was substituted to a standing ovation, with those who were lucky enough to witness his masterclass still awestruck. Pundits are running out of superlatives to describe him.
It may only be October, but it is hard to imagine De Bruyne not being at the front of the queue when the end of season player awards are being dished out. On current form, he is head and shoulders above any other midfielder in the Premier League – and perhaps Europe.
Rewind 12 months and City again looked unstoppable, only to falter spectacularly before eventually finishing third. While it is far to early to proclaim them as champions-elect, there is a fluidity and and crispness to their football that has set a new benchmark.
Such is the depth in their ranks that City could theoretically field two teams with the ability to finish in the top six. Sure, Guardiola has spent enormous sums of money to revamp his squad, but he also deserves credit for improving individuals such as Raheem Sterling and John Stones.
Nobody is pretending that De Bruyne was a mediocre player when he joined City from Wolfsburg, two years ago. As the £55 million price-tag indicated, the Belgian was one of Europe’s brightest talents. However, under Guardiola, he has made a mockery of Jose Mourinho’s decision to sell him at Chelsea.
With City now looking genuine contenders for the Champions League as well as the domestic title, this is bound to be an exciting season for the club’s supporters.
But for all the talent at the Spanish manager’s disposal, City’s ambitions may well depend on a players whose sheer presence in the starting XI is enough to frighten the life out of the opposition.
To watch Kevin De Bruyne in action is to watch poetry in motion.