Kevin De Bruyne says Manchester City have been ‘figured out’
John Stones and Gabriel Jesus unable to travel for game against Schalke because of injury
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. “The level of Champions League is still higher than in the Premier League, that’s why only the best teams play.” Photograph: Reuters/Matthew Childs
City, in Germany for Wednesday night’s Champions League last-16 first leg against Schalke, won the Premier League last season with a record 100 points and also claimed the League Cup. This season they are in contention for a quadruple, and while De Bruyne described this as “nearly impossible” he is unfazed by City having to adjust their play to beat teams.
Asked to compare last term’s side with the current one, De Bruyne said: “I think it’s the same. In the league we lost a few more but we are still fighting on all fronts. I think other teams figure out what we do a bit better. They have better squads, we just added one player [Riyad Mahrez].”
In the league City have 65 points and lead Liverpool on goal difference, though the Merseyside club have played a match fewer.
De Bruyne said: “The way we play is always going to be the same with Pep [Guardiola] – we’re not going to change. We’ve a lot of points and are still setting a high standard, maybe not the same as last year, but maybe we’ll win more titles. If we win three titles we will have done better than last year.
“Titles are the most important thing. We also do different things. We have main guidelines for what we always do, but we try to adapt. We also know if teams do other things we must try something else as openings come in a different way. We try to adapt and dominate games. Sometimes in games that are more difficult we try to win in another way.”
The midfielder added: “I think the goal is not to win the four competitions. The goal is to win every game and the further you progress, you want to win the next game. You cannot say at the beginning we are going to win four.”
The first stage of that starts at Schalke. “We want to progress to the quarter-finals and be closer to winning it,” said De Bruyne. “But to win all four and set that standard is nearly impossible.”
When City’s run of only five wins in their last 11 matches in Europe was raised, De Bruyne said: “First of all, the level of Champions League is still higher than in the Premier League, that’s why only the best teams play.
“Second, it doesn’t matter how many games you lose – you want to win as many as possible – but in the end it’s about winning the trophy and trying to perform the best.”
“John has a groin problem and Gabriel finished the game in Newport with a hamstring problem. There are not big ones, the doctor told me, but enough of a problem not to be here. That’s normal when you play every three days for three months. We played 25 games in three months.”
He then aimed a dig at the European and world governing bodies.
“We are going to finish the season and we will give them three weeks [off]. Then we are going to China to play big clubs in Europe [pre-season] and push them [the players]. Maybe Fifa or Uefa are going to organise another competition for these three weeks we have off.”
De Bruyne’s season has been blighted by two serious knee injuries, two months early on and then another six weeks in late autumn. While this means he is fresh, the Belgian believes constant football is of more benefit.
“When you’re in the flow you don’t have to think, when you come back from injury you try to do the same but you are not quick enough, you have to think quicker,” the 27-year-old said. “It comes natural [when playing regularly] because you are mentally conditioned to play.”
Although Schalke are 14th in the Bundesliga, Guardiola remains wary of them.
“If you want to go through you have to be yourself every minute, and after we will see. I want us to be ourselves, it’s a challenge and I’m delighted to face it.”