Kevin De Bruyne set to equal Premier League record & put 11 months of suffering behind him

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The midfielder’s experience winning Premier League titles could be invaluable when Manchester City take on West Ham.

When Jamie Carragher picked his team of the season on Monday Night Football, Gary Neville scoffed at one selection in particular.

That in itself is no great surprise, but the subject of Neville’s bewilderment is. The former Manchester United right-back couldn’t phantom how his long-time punditry partner had selected Kevin De Bruyne in this fantasy XI.

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In Neville’s defence, the Belgian missed the first half of City’s season and has played less than a third of the club’s Premier League minutes this campaign. Yet without him, it’s no exaggeration to claim Pep Guardiola’s side may have let this title slip away.

Phil Foden has been outstanding this season and has repeatedly provided game-changing moments, but in the rare instances when the FWA Player of the Year hasn’t been on song, it’s often De Bruyne who has stepped up. At St James’ Park, in a 21-minute showing there was a goal and an assist, while he also set up crucial goals against Everton and Liverpool.

Tuesday’s win at Tottenham Hotspur was kickstarted by City’s no.17 after he fastened onto Bernardo Silva’s pass and centred the ball for Erling Haaland to tap in. That might prove to be his most crucial involvement of the campaign, and it sets up a final-day clash against West Ham United where a City win will secure a record-breaking fourth consecutive top-flight title.

De Bruyne has been here before - against Brighton & Hove Albion in 2019 and Aston Villa two years ago. On both occasions City went on to claim top spot and the midfielder could earn his sixth Premier League winner’s medal this weekend. Only five players - Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Roy Keane and Denis Irwin have more, and six league triumphs would see him draw level with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in terms of the most Premier League titles won by a foreign player.

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Most expect that given City’s imperious form - eight wins in a row - they’ll easily dispatch West Ham with ease, even if the first signs of nerves were present on Tuesday night. But De Bruyne, a serial Premier League winner doesn’t think that’s significant.

“You feel the pressure – that’s normal in these situations,” he said ahead of Sunday’s game. “Even in the years before when we’ve played these games against Brighton, Aston Villa – there’s so much at stake and it’s normal.

“We knew about the record at Tottenham and not really winning at that new stadium, it puts a little bit of pressure on, and you could feel that but that’s normal. Winning that game gives us the situation we wanted to be in on Sunday – being able to know that if we win that game, we can be champions.

“You have to appreciate what you do throughout the whole year to be in this situation,” he continued. “People always talk about trophies, but we work for 11 months to get to this situation and if you don’t enjoy it along the way, what does it really mean?

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“That one game – if we win or don’t win, it’s not going to change how I feel how well we did this season. I know there’s a lot of talk afterwards but the way I see it is that this team has done incredible after the successes we’ve had in the last few years. It’s credit to the whole team to be in this situation again.”

The only difference in this year’s final-day drama is that it’s Arsenal, not Liverpool, lying in wait if City slip up. On nine previous occasions when the title has been decided on matchday 38 - four of which have involved City - the side top of the table before a ball was kicked have always gone on to win the league.

The Blues know a win will most probably be required given Arsenal’s form, and Mikel Arteta’s side head into their clash against Everton on the back of 15 wins from 17 league games.

“It’s felt like a lot of seasons – we’ve fought so many battles with Liverpool before, Arsenal last year and both of them this year,” said De Bruyne. “It’s hard because you have to almost be perfect for a long time to have a chance to win the title. 

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“It’s been a good fight – I respect the other teams; they do a great job but obviously we want to do it again and we know what we have to do on Sunday.”

As good as the opponents have been, they almost always fall short against Guardiola. The Catalan is on the verge of becoming the first manager in the history of English football to win four consecutive top-flight titles, while City could make it six league successes in seven years.

“The most important person is Pep. He’s the boss and he sets the way for the team,” said De Bruyne. “He sets the basic standards, and you follow that. He created this team, and the team responds to him. It works together.

“When I came here, it was a very different team – a team full of legends who won before and an older team. In Pep’s first season, a lot of people were in their 30s so we needed a rebuild and I was probably one of the first pieces at the time. I would have never expected to win five titles or all the things we have done. It’s been pretty incredible.”

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‘Incredible’ would also aptly describe De Bruyne’s output in this title run-in, and he’s managed 0.8 assists per game this term - the next closest in the division is 0.56. The 32-year-old has also created more chances per 90 than any other player in the league and, since returning in January, De Bruyne has produced a goal or assist every 80 minutes. In comparison, Foden’s goal involvements have come every 111 minutes.

Neville might scoff, but it’s those sort of ludicrous numbers that justify Carragher’s team of the season selection. For any ordinary player, missing half the campaign would automatically rule them out, but De Bruyne is not like anyone the Premier League has seen before.

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