It could hardly be a worse start to the 2018/19 season for Kevin De Bruyne. Fresh from the World Cup semi-finals and on the back of a title-winning season for Manchester City where he played the best football of his career, the Belgian has been ruled out for “two to four months” due to a twisted right knee in training.
Never mind just City fans, most of the Premier League was looking forward to one of the world’s best dictating games and spraying long balls across the pitch for fun. Instead, the 27-year-old will miss some of Manchester City’s most crucial games, including a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool on October 7.
So, with the title defence underway, just how much will Pep Guardiola miss his main man in midfield? Our tactical analysis looks at the statistics and determines whether De Bruyne’s injury really is make or break for a second consecutive Premier League trophy.
Belgian Bite and End Product
Looking at the statistics, surprisingly, it is not De Bruyne’s pin-point passes which dominate his game as much as they do the match highlights. In fact, when it comes to City’s formidable possession play, it is Fernandinho who is the midfield linchpin with 81.41 successful passes per 90 compared to De Bruyne’s 60.92. That’s not to say the Belgian isn’t comfortable in possession, over the course of last season he completed the third-most passes in the team (2,490), but still some 600 less than Fernandinho.
Both midfielders are near enough the same level of recycling the ball and winning possession back quickly, aspects which were fundamental to Manchester City dominating teams. Fernandinho averages better interceptions per 90, with 1.47 compared to De Bruyne’s 0.70.
However, Kevin De Bruyne is better when it comes to physically chasing the ball down and harrying players with his never-ending stamina, winning 1.26 tackles per game, the best of City’s midfield.
This feeds in beautifully to the statistic which naturally follows winning tackles – creating chances. David Silva is often thought of as the king of this department, but while De Bruyne doesn’t quite have the agility to ghost past defenders, he can certainly charge by them. It’s not surprising these two are by far and away the most influential in the final third with their incredible passing ability, but it’s De Bruyne who edges it on paper with 2.81 chances created per 90. The most striking statistic of all is the number of key passes he completed last season, with 82 key passes he is light-years ahead of his teammates, with David Silva second (48) and Leroy Sane in third (42).
With an average of a goal every four games, De Bruyne’s trademark rockets will dearly be missed and will have some catching up to do when he returns to better his nine goals last season.
Despite missing a key cog, our tactical analysis says Manchester City’s style of play and domination of games isn’t likely to change. Guardiola has instilled quick passes, constant pressing and recycling of the ball into his team’s DNA, and are far too good to crumble if they are missing one player. But, the Kevin De Bruyne injury will still be a sore one to take, and while the possession statistics stay the same, expect to see a dip in clear-cut chances created and as a result, perhaps most crucially, fewer goals.