It was at the end of January when I asked if Manchester City could cope without Kevin De Bruyne, who had just sustained a knee injury. He had made quite the impact at The Etihad since his big money transfer from Wolfsburg last summer and his loss at a crucial time in the season threatened to disrupt the club’s push for honours. Despite the depth of talent in City’s squad, De Bruyne’s season stats suggested he could be a big loss for Manuel Pellegrini’s side and as it transpired, he certainly was.
Of the seven Premier League matches De Bruyne missed through injury, Manchester City won just two of them, a 29% win ratio at a key time and against some key opponents because amongst those were losing to Spurs, Manchester United and Leicester. It was a period that effectively ended their title aspirations and whilst some may point to the announcement of Pep Guardiola replacing Pellegrini in the summer destabilising City, I think it was more that too often, they lacked inspiration on the pitch in tight matches. That game changer and match winner quality is something De Bruyne certainly possesses and was an ingredient City sorely missed and that is saying something when you consider this is a team containing Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
De Bruyne’s return at the weekend helped inspire a Manchester City performance that was reminiscent of them at their destructive best and saw them go 3-0 up within 20 minutes against Bournemouth. The explosion and energy in his game was reflected in how City started the game and dispatched the Cherries in uncompromising fashion. Defensively, Manchester City have definitely had problems in recent weeks and have lacked any organisation in the absence of Vincent Kompany, but when their attack is firing, it takes pressure off the defence and changes the emphasis of the game.
One of the positives for City during De Bruyne’s absence has been how they navigated a potentially tricky tie with Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League. In particular, winning the first leg 3-1 away from home was an impressive statement of intent for the club to make on the European stage and important that the talismanic figures, Aguero, Silva and Yaya Toure all got on the scoresheet. Being able to raise the club’s profile and continue their progression in the Champions League should not be underestimated if they are to become the superpower the owners aspire them to be. Personally, I was impressed by how comfortably City managed the second leg and largely nullified any threat from Kiev.
Next up for City is Paris Saint Germain and all the name value they bring with the likes of Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Blaise Matuidi, Edinson Cavani, Marco Verratti and Angel Di Maria. The way PSG dispatched an in-form Chelsea with relative ease in the last round shows they are not just a collection of expensive names, but a formidable team. Yes, the French league is weak, but City are unlikely to find PSG coasting, they have a smart manager in Laurent Blanc who will have his team mentally focused and tactically prepared for what is also a massive tie for PSG. In a similar vein to City’s owners, the PSG hierarchy have ambitions to become European Champions and establishing themselves as a major influence in world football.
For both clubs, the significance of winning this tie and being within touching distance of the final cannot be underestimated and big games like these are the perfect setting for big players to come to the fore. This is just the type of game, just the type of setting that could be the platform for Kevin De Bruyne to propel City onto the next level. Having him back and fresh is huge and although his match fitness may become a constraint, he has the ability to explode upon a match, to turn it in an instant and that could be a deciding factor in this tie. His ability to dribble and either shoot or pick out a team mate can send a defence back peddling, he is direct and he troubles opponents, running at them with pace and intent, something the PSG midfield and back line will not enjoy. Kevin De Bruyne could well be the catalyst to Manchester City finishing a roller coaster season on a very positive note.