Kevin De Bruyne fatigued by increased workload at Manchester City
Injury crisis within Pep Guardiola’s side is beginning to take its toll on key players
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne says he felt himself getting tired from within the first minute of the second half of game against Burnley. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
The glory will surely come for Manchester City. First, however, for the pain. Kevin De Bruyne caused plenty of it, making opponents ache with his relentless running and smart with his considerable quality. It may be a consolation to his many victims that the Belgian is hurting, too.
“I was feeling it from the first minute,” he said, bringing the directness he can show on the pitch when asked if he was tiring in the second half of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Burnley. “You feel great for 10 games, then you feel okay for 10 games and then the rest you feel like s**t.” This, for the record, was De Bruyne’s 42nd match, 36 of them in a City shirt, in a personal campaign that, with progress and prowess in the Champions League and World Cup, could stretch towards 70 appearances and last another five months.
He has allied craft with graft, registering the most assists, crosses and through balls in the division, and already covering more ground than many players do in a season. If City are pacesetters, De Bruyne has become their long-distance runner. He has completed 2,975 minutes in their colours, more than anyone else. His workload has been increased by David Silva’s personal circumstances and the marginalisation of Yaya Touré, who has been limited to 89 minutes of Premier League football. If De Bruyne is indefatigable, he is also indispensable.
“We’ve only got 15 or 16 players available at the moment, so we need to get through it,” De Bruyne added. Pep Guardiola underlined the impression that a team without seven injured players and a club who failed to sign Riyad Mahrez are short-staffed by naming only six substitutes, three of them youngsters.
If it had the feel of a gesture, designed to rebut suggestions City are buying the title by stockpiling players, his managerial peers are unlikely to show much sympathy. His uncomplaining Burnley counterpart, Sean Dyche, filled the seventh spot on his bench with Aiden O’Neill, the teenager who was on loan at Fleetwood five weeks ago.
With O’Neill remaining unused, Burnley finished the stronger. “We probably ran out of steam a little bit,” Vincent Kompany said. De Bruyne concurred: “We haven’t got any players left, so maybe we feel a little bit of tiredness, which makes it a little bit more difficult.” City invariably outpass opponents but they were outrun by three kilometres. Burnley’s stand-in captain, Ben Mee, said: “We don’t show teams too much respect.”
It is a policy that has brought them points against each of the top five. Yet while De Bruyne and Kompany used the word “exceptional” to describe some of City’s play, the adjective applied to the open goal Raheem Sterling, a scorer 19 times this season, missed and to the result: this was an exception, only the fourth time in 26 league games they did not win. Another anomaly beckons. “We have a week now [between games] and it couldn’t come at a better time,” Kompany said.
Guardiola marked it by giving everyone three days off. “I’m going away; it doesn’t matter where,” De Bruyne said. If he could return refreshed, his manager’s words, unlike his team sheet, suggested he is refusing to rue the ones who got away. Guardiola looked forward as he contemplated his injured attackers. “January is the past,” he rationalised. “Gabriel [Jesus] is coming back. Leroy [Sané] is coming back.”
Perhaps there is an incongruous element to City’s injury crisis. While others are on the sidelines, the usually luckless Kompany is fit. If one of City’s Belgians has been overworked, there was a school of thought that the other could be underused after Aymeric Laporte’s £57.2 million (€64.8 million) move. Instead, the captain returned at the expense of the club-record signing.
If Guardiola’s passing principles are set in stone, he is no inflexible ideologue. He compromised because of his surroundings. He changed his back four to incorporate the more defensive Danilo, reaping an unexpected dividend when the Brazilian scored in spectacular fashion, and Kompany to combat “the most British of teams” in Burnley. “Vincent in these kind of games is a top, top player,” Guardiola said.
Kompany made a solitary error, culminating in Aaron Lennon hitting the post, but otherwise coped well with Burnley’s aerial attack. A defender passed a physical test. A passer, creator and scorer has done, too. Now City must hope De Bruyne is not running on empty in the run-in.