Even in the current age of inflated transfer fees, £55 million is still an astronomical sum to spend on a single player. It therefore takes a very special talent for such a fee to be ignored or justified as value for money. Kevin de Bruyne is that kind of talent.
Rejected by Jose Mourinho for lacking the character to compete for positions in a team challenging for trophies, de Bruyne rebuilt his career in Germany with Wolfsburg, where he shone as the Bundesliga’s best player outside of the stellar Bayern Munich squad.
20 goals and bucketfuls of assists over two-and-a-half years at the German club helped establish Wolfsburg as the second best team in Germany last season. His importance to his former club has only been enhanced since his departure, with The Wolves dropping to a miserly 8th in the Bundesliga this campaign; their near-upset over Real Madrid in the Champions League masking what has been a very disappointing season domestically. With de Bruyne still in the side, they may well have got over the line at the Bernabeu.
However, Wolfsburg’s loss was Manchester City’s gain, and de Bruyne was perhaps the key difference in their tie with Paris Saint Germain. The Belgian scored twice over the two legs, opening the scoring in Paris and Manchester, where his curling winner all but secured a first Champions League semi-final for the Citizens. Without de Bruyne’s goals and general quality, it is hard to imagine City getting through what was a very tough tie against the runaway French Champions.
Away from Europe, de Bruyne has been in excellent form for Manchester City in the league, and, alongside Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero, can now be considered as one of the most crucial parts in Pellegrini’s team.
Not only has he notched 15 goals in 34 matches in all competitions for his new team, the Belgian’s presence on the field also has a massive contribution to the overall performance of the team.
With de Bruyne in the side, City have garnered 38 points from 21 games, at a rate of 1.8 points per game. Whilst this total only drops to 1.7 without him, it is important to bear in mind that City won their first four games of the season before de Bruyne joined the side. When he was sidelined with a knee injury throughout February and March, the Citizens won just two of their seven games in the Premier League, winning just 1 point per game.
City also benefit massively in front of goal with de Bruyne in the side: they manage a very good 1.9 goals per game when he is in the team, compared to just 1.5 without him. That number dropped alarmingly to 0.8 goals per game when the Belgian was sat on the sidelines with his knee injury.
Whilst the numbers do suggest that City would still have been short of a real title challenge had de Bruyne been fit for the entirety of the season, the drop off in City’s form when he was injured implicate that they would have probably dropped out of the top four without his timely return to the team. As it stands, with de Bruyne fit, their position at Europe’s top table looks safe for another season.
It is not surprising that de Bruyne has had such a positive effect on the team when looking at the rest of Manchester City’s attacking options. David Silva, previously a dazzling creative force, has started to wane this season, and despite his possession friendly style, could well be pushed out by the incoming Guardiola.
Samir Nasri is good, but also inconsistent, injury prone, and nowhere near the same level as de Bruyne. Jesus Navas is at best an impact player, who possesses pace but very little quality on the ball. Raheem Sterling, who cost just £6 million less that the Belgian has spent most of his first season at the Etihad being marked out of games and generally having very little impact on proceedings. It is even becoming difficult to guarantee Sterling’s place in the England squad for the upcoming European Championships, something that was unthinkable when he made his record-breaking move along the M62.
Due to the deficiencies of his other attacking options, Guardiola will be looking to rebuild an entirely new squad at Manchester City over the summer, but one player he cannot do without is de Bruyne. He provides goals, assists, quality and versatility, able to play anywhere behind the striker and even up front on his own in the event of a forward emergency. He has proved himself to be one of the smartest buys of the summer transfer window, and City are still competing in Europe largely thanks to his brilliance. Although a Champions League triumph is unlikely, with de Bruyne in the side, Manchester City may just have a chance.
Is Kevin de Bruyne rapidly becoming Manchester City’s most influential player? Should Pep Guardiola start to build his team around the talented Belgian international when he takes charge at the Etihad? Tell us your thoughts and get involved with the discussion in the comment section below.
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