We’ve heard on the grapevine that Pep Guardiola has pretty high standards, so when the Spaniard gives you praise, you know it’s been a good day’s work. The City boss’ quotes on Kevin De Bruyne this weekend will certainly have left the Belgian’s spirits sky high.
The former Barcelona manager has long been an admirer of the 25-year old and was disappointed to be beaten to his signature by his new employers whilst with Bayern Munich. De Bruyne, after all, had scored 10 goals and registered a sensational 20 league assists for Wolfsburg in 2014/15, and if there was one player within Germany capable of improving an already rampant Bayern it was the Bundesliga player of the year (7.95 rating).
It wasn’t to be at the time for Pep, but the notion of working with the Belgium international still appealed and, while not the reason behind his move to Manchester, it was apparent that Guardiola was keen to build a team around De Bruyne. The early signs of this latest experiment are extremely encouraging indeed.
Speaking after the playmaker tore Bournemouth apart on Saturday, securing a perfect 10 rating from WhoScored.com – something only Raheem Sterling, from the same game, has managed in the Premier League this season – Guardiola’s growing admiration for De Bruyne couldn’t have been clearer.
“Kevin is one of the best players I’ve worked with. Messi is on his own in the table but Kevin is in the next table and he is right up there.”
He wouldn’t quite say that Messi was the only player better than De Bruyne that he has worked with – ahead of Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets – but he came pretty close. So was such a glowing reference justified? Is the City slicker now up there with the very best?
Well, his performances at the start of this season certainly suggest so. De Bruyne’s current WhoScored.com rating of 8.19 is the best in the Premier League and top of the pile of those to make at least four appearances in Europe’s top leagues so far. Second in that list? Lionel Messi (8.15).
While it’s very early days, with two goals and three assists to his name the Belgian is on course to rival the stunning figures he posted prior to his Premier League switch, with his first campaign in England having been disrupted by an injury that effectively ruled City out of the title.
It’s his record at the Etihad that has really made the former Chelsea man a fan favourite in Eastlands. Indeed, in 15 league appearances at home for Manchester City De Bruyne has scored six goals and registered 11 assists, all for an outstanding rating of 8.00. His performances on the road, however, haven’t quite hit the standards expected of a player now firmly considered as the Citizens’ most integral.
By comparison to his stunning home record the midfielder has scored three goals and registered a solitary assist from the same number of league outings away from home. The early signs this season suggest that he is working to put that right though, with a WhoScored rating of 8.12 from two games this season well in advance of a modest 7.14 across all 15 in sky blue. If he can keep up his level of performances away from home then De Bruyne should certainly be considered in the same league as the world’s elite.
When comparing his stats with the best of the rest, as many as 11 players have registered more league assists since the start of last season than De Bruyne’s 12 in Europe’s top five leagues. Ozil (19), Eriksen and Payet (both 15) are higher from England’s top flight, as well as United newcomers Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic. However, none have recorded as many assists in fewer appearances than the Belgian (32), so he’s not too far behind.
In terms of chance creation in general, De Bruyne is just one shy of 100 key passes in the league in total at City, just squeezing into the top ten in Europe. Again with fewer appearances than those above him, the Belgian jumps to sixth in terms of per-game figures (3.1), but is again behind the likes of Payet, Ozil (4) and Eriksen (3.2).
Where De Bruyne has perhaps moved ahead of the competition though, is his vision and weight of pass. Both were on display against Bournemouth at the weekend and it’s the Belgian’s contribution to the rapid attacks that City launch, be that in winning the ball back and starting moves from his own half or finishing off himself, as he did in the derby. It’s this ability to shine on the biggest stage that also sets him apart, with a WhoScored.com man of the match showing against United joining star outings from last season against the likes of Arsenal, West Ham, Southampton and PSG. He’s no flat-track bully, and has been at his best when it’s mattered more often than most.
Guardiola is certainly more than appreciative of De Bruyne’s efforts in that regard, stating “[He] is a special player, without the ball he’s the first fighter, with it he’s clear, he sees everything.” It’s true that since the start of last season only four players have won possession in the attacking third more often (0.87 times per game) and it’s a facet to his game that far outweighs the likes of Payet (0.48) and Ozil (0.36).
In that respect, to the contribution of the team as a whole and especially this City side under Guardiola, De Bruyne is unrivalled at present. With another chance to improve on the away form that let him down a little last season at Swansea next weekend, if De Bruyne can replicate his form at the Etihad on the road then he will no doubt be a front runner for this season’s Player of the Year award. He already seems a cut above the rest, even amongst Guardiola’s superstars.