Manchester City superstar De Bruyne remains grounded under Guardiola
In-form striker’s left-footed thunderbolt helped to secure a victory over Leicester
Manchester City striker Kevin De Bruyne takes on Vicente Iborra of Leicester City. Photograph: Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
“If the ball goes on the left foot then you just try it,” said a typically relaxed Kevin De Bruyne on Saturday evening. “Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s the same with the outside, the inside. It helps if you can do different types of things, sometimes you might put spin on it. But I’m not scared to shoot with my left foot, obviously.”
Obviously. The Belgian’s left foot decided this match; his shot from outside the Leicester City area hitting the roof of Kasper Schmeichel’s net at a speed that just did not seem feasible. It was the sort of goal that causes cheeks to puff out in astonishment and increasingly what people are hoping to see when they watch Manchester City play. Yes your team might get a chasing but there will be moments of virtuosity you won’t forget. When De Bruyne was substituted in the 89th minute, he was applauded from all sides of the King Power Stadium.
For a player who increasingly looks like a superstar, De Bruyne hardly acts like one. It’s not like he is modest, but he is grounded, and so matter-of-fact as to be both endearing and just a little disappointing. There’s no talk of lions and immortality, just a clear-eyed focus on process and practice. That, of course, is the way Pep Guardiola likes it.
“It’s freedom but everybody has their position‚” De Bruyne said of the gameplan. “I know when Kyle [Walker] is going up and Raheem [Sterling] is going inside I have to take care of the winger for the counter. If I am more up then Kyle is going to stay and Raheem is going to be outside. It’s fluidity in the team but knowing what you need to do at the right time.
“We just have to try and see where the spaces are and then take advantage. Every game is going to give us something else and today was more on the left but I think Raheem came more inside as a result and the first goal he created was very good.”
Indeed it was. Sterling made the opener just before half-time with a piece of play that was David Silva-like. Playing a one-two with De Bruyne, the England man then dinked a ball between centre-half and full-back that turned the Leicester defence. Breaking beyond that back-line was Silva. He cut the ball across goal for Gabriel Jesus, who simply couldn’t miss.
City have the same number of points after 12 games, 34, as Roberto Mancini’s title-winning side of 2011-12. They have a better goal difference, by virtue of conceding fewer goals. But the talk is already of a new bar being set for the league in terms of style of play and questions are being asked as to whether City can now go the entire season unbeaten (for the record, Arsenal’s Invincibles had 30 points at this stage).
The fluidity and understanding throughout Guardiola’s team lends credibility to such talk. As does the fact that City have one of the most expensive squads in the history of the game. The City manager fumed at losing John Stones to a hamstring strain on the half hour. It was an injury he blamed on the defender playing 90 minutes in both of England’s recent friendlies.
Guardiola will now look to recruit a new defender in January but, for all of that, the substitute Eliaquim Mangala did a good job of standing in. The Frenchman, making only his second league appearance of the season, cost the club £32 million (€38 million) three seasons ago.
Vincent Kompany also made his return to the side, though in his case after injury (sustained on international duty, which again drew Guardiola’s ire). The Belgian was lucky not to be sent off in just the third minute when his tackle brought down Jamie Vardy. Claude Puel felt it was the game’s crucial moment, Kompany felt Stones was providing adequate cover to prevent a goalscoring opportunity. “It was a good run from Vardy. I thought: ‘I’ll just use my joker now,’” Kompany said.
The club captain may not be as vital to his team’s prospects as he once was, but the experience he has accrued in winning two Premier League trophies should prove invaluable. Asked whether this team are playing the best football he has seen in his nine years at the club, Kompany said: “Maybe at this moment, but I want to remain on the cautious side, because we don’t have any silverware to show for it. At the moment we haven’t done anything special, we’ve just put ourselves in a good position to go and do something great.”