Manchester City are coming to terms with the loss of Kevin De Bruyne to a knee injury – but how will the champions cope without last season’s title-winning talisman?
With tests ongoing, the exact length of De Bruyne’s absence remains unclear, but initial fears have ruled the Belgium international out for between two and four months.
Many have backed Pep Guardiola and his star-studded City squad to take De Bruyne’s injury in their stride, but will his spell on sidelines be as seamless as predicted?
Here, we look at how City have fared with and without De Bruyne and which players are most likely take up the mantle at the start of their title defence.
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With and without De Bruyne
City find themselves in uncharted waters. Since joining the club in 2015, De Bruyne has failed to start just 20 Premier League games, but now the champions have to make do without him for a sizeable chunk of the season.
Whether it be goals, assists, second assists, successful passes, overall chances created or chances created from set pieces and open play, De Bruyne has been City’s – and in most cases the Premier League’s – standout performer since arriving in Manchester.
Unsurprisingly, without the Belgian’s influence, City’s figures dip in almost every department.
Man City in PL since De Bruyne debut (Sep 12, 2015)
|De Bruyne starts||De Bruyne doesn’t start|
|2.3||Avg. Goals For||1.8|
|0.9||Avg. Goals Against||1.2|
Where will De Bruyne be missed the most?
It seems a silly question to ask given the quality De Bruyne displayed in City’s title-winning campaign, after all, the absence of one of the league’s most effective, technically gifted and intelligent players would weaken any team.
But while City have players capable of shouldering the burden in a number of departments, there’s one area that will feel his absence more than most – set pieces.
Only Gylfi Sigurdsson and Christian Eriksen have created more chance from set plays since De Bruyne’s debut in September 2015, and with no other City player featuring in the top 10, it’s clear they don’t have a like-for-like replacement.
Previous from Pep
Speaking on The Debate, Craig Bellamy backed a manager of Guardiola’s calibre to cope with the loss of De Bruyne.
“With the quality City have, the way the play and especially with the manager they have, if they need to tweak the system to suit the players who are available the best coach I’ve seen in England – Pep Guardiola – can,” the former City forward said.
But does history support Bellamy’s claim?
2:59 If any manager can cope without Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola can, according to Craig Bellamy
De Bruyne has not started, or played no part in, eight Premier League games since Guardiola took charge, with City winning six and losing two of those matches.
De Bruyne was absent as the Spaniard tasted defeat for the first time in English football, a 2-0 reverse at White Hart Lane in October 2016 against Spurs, who were without Harry Kane.
The other defeat came last season as a stunning second-half comeback from Manchester United put City’s title celebrations momentarily on ice, but apart from that, City under Guardiola have proven more than capable of winning without De Bruyne.
One of the trademarks of City under Guardiola has been the fluidity of his squad, and nowhere has this been more evident than when De Bruyne has been absent – be it through injury, lack of form or managerial preference. In Guardiola’s first season, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Nolito interchanged in the forward positions.
2:45 Highlights: Arsenal 0-2 Man City
A clue as to how Guardiola will deal with this fresh setback was inadvertently given in City’s opening-day victory at Arsenal. With De Bruyne starting on the bench at the Emirates, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Sterling played behind Sergio Aguero. City won 2-0.
The champions were dominant, albeit in patches, but there were enough positives to suggest the champions have enough in their armoury to cope.
An “embarrassment of riches. That was Danny Higginbotham’s assessment of the wealth of talent Guardiola can call upon as he tries to fill the gap left by De Bruyne.
“When you look at most of the top teams in the Premier League, they got the odd player of the quality of De Bruyne – City have got three or four,” he told The Debate.
“Guardiola has got an embarrassment of riches but because he’s such an open-minded manager and players can play in a number of positions, he will be able to fill the void.
“Because of the quality City have got in that position, bizarrely enough, there are other players who could be more missed than De Bruyne, not because of quality but because of strength in depth.”
The stats support Higginbotham’s claim. In summer signing Mahrez, they possess a midfielder with the second-most Premier League goals (31) since De Bruyne made his league debut for City – only Dele Alli has more (37).
Then there is David Silva. The majestic Spaniard’s successful pass tally in the opposition half since De Bruyne’s bow (3567) is 54 more than the Belgium international himself.
No Premier League player has made more than De Bruyne’s 43 assists since he made his City debut, but, encouragingly, David Silva and Mahrez have 49 between them in the same period.
How did City deal without De Bruyne before?
It’s not the first time Manchester City have been left to come to terms with a lengthy De Bruyne injury. The Belgian missed 12 games in all competitions after injuring his knee in a League Cup semi-final second-leg victory over Everton in January 2016.
Sergio Aguero fired City to Wembley but it proved to be a bittersweet night for City and manager Manuel Pellegrini, as their quest for an unprecedented quadruple unravelled.
In a bid to plug the gap vacated by De Bruyne, Pellegrini drafted Fernando alongside Fernandinho in the defensive midfield positions and pushed Yaya Toure further forward. Initially City coped, winning 4-0 away at Aston Villa in the FA Cup before sealing a narrow victory at Sunderland, but three season-defining defeats soon followed.
Leicester romped to a famous 3-1 victory at the Etihad to steal the initiative in the Premier League title race, while a 2-1 defeat at home to Tottenham in the next game saw Spurs replace City as the Foxes’ main title rivals.
After a youthful City side were dumped out of the FA Cup at Chelsea, there was a brief upturn in fortunes as they took a giant stride to the Champions League quarter-finals with victory away at Dynamo Kiev and beat Liverpool on penalties to lift the League Cup.
But when Liverpool sought rapid retribution for their defeat at Wembley with a comprehensive 3-0 win at Anfield just three days later, their title defence was at an end.
De Bruyne scored on his return in a 4-0 win at Bournemouth at the start of April, but only after a goalless draw at Norwich a derby defeat to Manchester United had further dented City’s season, which culminated in a limp Champions League exit to Real Madrid at the semi-final stage.
Leicester went on to be crowned champions, City finished fourth ahead of United on goal difference.
See how the champions fare without De Bruyne when Manchester City host Huddersfield on Renault Super Sunday – live from 12.30pm on Sky Sports Premier League.