Why Sergio Aguero's suspension provides an excellent opportunity for Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne
Manchester City are facing a tough couple of weeks without their star striker Sergio Aguero, due to his retrospective ban for violent conduct. Their options to replace him are either Kelechi Iheanacho or Nolito, neither of whom are anywhere near the level that Aguero is at. Pep Guardiola will be expecting his midfield to step up in the absence of the team’s top scorer. Kevin De Bruyne in particular needs to improve and he will be hoping to open his account for the season this weekend in the Manchester derby.
Despite not scoring during the opening three matches, De Bruyne looks to be a vital part of the side under Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard will see De Bruyne as a creator rather than a scorer and that is reflected in the role that he has asked the midfielder to carry out. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager wants his forward players (Aguero, Sterling, Nolito) to be his main goal threats, leaving both De Bruyne and David Silva to concentrate on creating chances.
During the first three matches, the Belgian has contributed two assists and created eight chances overall. His chances created per game has dropped from 3.64 in 2015/16 to 2.7 this season. It remains early in the season and the midfielder will need time to adjust to Guardiola’s high intensity system. There is a lot of new information to process for every player in the side and Manchester City won’t be at their best until much later in the season. That is why three wins from three has been very impressive. They will only improve.
The main difference under Guardiola is that the quality of chances that the side are creating now are more dangerous. As a result, we may see a drop in the number of chances created by De Bruyne, but an increase in assists. City are now playing a quick, passing style that is designed to open spaces in the final third as defences tire. This should suit De Bruyne as he has a great technique and is able to pick quality passes when gaps appear in the opposition defence.
At the moment, De Bruyne is averaging 2.7 shots per game, but has yet to score a league goal. The style of play is restricting the Belgian to long range efforts. Although he is capable of scoring from outside the area, he won’t be able to do so with regularity.
Aguero’s suspension is a huge blow to the side, but it could create the opportunity for De Bruyne to thrive in his absence. Although Guardiola is an idealist when it comes to tactics, he can be pragmatic when it is required and he could change the tactics slightly this weekend to deal with the loss of Aguero. During the first three matches, he has used De Bruyne as a central midfielder, with the freedom to push forward and join attacks. The focus has been on getting the front three in on goal and it has worked superbly.
However, he may opt to change it this weekend and give De Bruyne a more advanced role. He showed last season that he can be deadly in the final third and without Aguero, the Belgian could be a great option to occupy the same spaces in attack. Iheanacho is a different striker than Aguero and prefers to make runs in behind the defence. This will leave a lot of space between the lines and that could suit De Bruyne.
It is difficult to measure the start that De Bruyne has made this season and we need to watch more matches before passing judgement on him. Manchester City have been playing with five attacking players and it is expected that De Bruyne will have less influence in the final third. The style has changed and he is now not seen as a primary goal threat. However, he remains one of the most talented players in the league and will see the absence of Aguero as an opportunity for him to make his mark.
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