Kevin De Bruyne playing in the recent Manchester derby. Credit: Getty.
Pep Guardiola’s men haven’t always been firing on all cylinders this season - there was the loss to Leicester City in the Community Shield, which was followed by an opening-weekend defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, along with the draw at home to Southampton.
The Blues also were beaten in the reverse fixture against PSG and then suffered a 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace last month, on an afternoon City simply couldn’t find a way past the Eagles’ defence.
But the response to that defeat has been spectacular with four consecutive wins over Club Brugge, Manchester United, Everton and PSG, in all of which City have dominated for the entirety of the game, suffocating the opposition with their quick pressing and excellent use of the ball.
On Wednesday, PSG couldn’t get near the hosts and in the latter stages City knocked the ball about the field with ease, led by the excellent Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri.
Yet one star missing for the Blues was the elegant Kevin De Bruyne, and the Belgian was also absent from the starting line-ups in the recent wins over Everton and Brugge, as well as the formidable display against Brighton & Hove Albion in October.
There’s no doubting De Bruyne’s talent and even if he’s having a subpar campaign, the Belgian has still played his part when on the field for City. But one aspect that was notable in the win over PSG was how energetic the midfield three were for Guardiola’s side and, for all De Bruyne’s qualities, he’s renowned for his ability on the ball rather than off it. So, could City be better without De Bruyne at present?
The winning formula
We’ve crunched the numbers behind the No.17’s impact on City this season, and the Blues have won 13 of their 20 games in all competitions this term, while drawing two and losing five. That’s a win percentage of 65%.
In comparison, when De Bruyne plays that number dips to 57%, although that figure is at 60% when the 30-year-old has started for the Premier League champions.
While the numbers do drop with De Bruyne in the side, it’s by a relatively small margin, and it’s worth highlighting he was involved in the excellent recent win at Old Trafford and starred in the victories away to Club Brugge and Chelsea this term.
As for the pressing stats, De Bruyne actually outperforms many of his midfield colleagues and averages 14.7 presses per 90 minutes in all competitions. Silva outstrips the former Chelsea man, with a tally of 20.8 per 90, but De Bruyne’s figures are better than that of Rodri (13.5) and Gundogan (9.51).
De Bruyne also posts the best stats for expected assists per 90 and from the quartet, only Gundogan has registered higher expected goals in all competitions.
Can City reach another level?
So the numbers would indicate City don’t perform better without De Bruyne, and they press just as effectively when he’s in the team. So the recent increase in form could be attributed to a number of factors, such as several outstanding individual performances and the side finally finding their groove again after a slow start.
As for De Bruyne, while there’s no real concern surrounding his on-field showings, there is perhaps a slight worry the Belgium international can’t seem to find any momentum in his game after a string of injuries in 2021.
The latest setback, having tested positive for Covid-19 last week, is another blow for De Bruyne, who needs regularity back in his game if he’s to reach the heights of recent seasons.
Despite that, Guardiola will be thrilled with how well City are playing without their main man, and how efficiently they’re creating chances while their most inventive player is absent. It should be a concerning thought for the chasing Premier League pack, that City’s performance level could yet improve when De Bruyne is finally back to his very best.