VAR will continue to cause uproars for a while longer. As it did at the Etihad, where the compelling theatre of Manchester City’s draw with Tottenham was lost to another controversy.
Pep Guardiola wasn’t happy. Either with the decision to disallow Gabriel Jesus’s late winner or the failure to award a first-half penalty against Erik Lamela.
But he spoke with great pride about a dominant performance during which his City side monopolised the ball and the game’s major chances.
The Catalan born can sometimes be prone to hyperbole, but this wasn’t one of those occasions. Despite failing to win the game – and exhibiting a strange defensive fragility – City were full of cutting thrust and, at times, made a very capable Spurs look helpless.
Guardiola was right to find it all so exhilarating. Particularly because it featured a dynamic performance from Kevin De Bruyne, who ran the game with the authoritative class that City have now been without for some time.
David Silva has said this will be his final season and began this game on the bench, though whereas City once relied on his cleverness and creativity the baton has now been picked up by De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gündogan.
But mostly De Bruyne, sometimes aided and abetted by Bernardo on the right. The Belgian has long had the ability to provide crosses of such precision that opponents find them hard to counter, and City’s first goal was a case in point.
The Belgian only made 11 Premier League starts last season and City were still able to hold off a Liverpool team who racked up more than 90 points.
But if anyone needed proof that Guardiola’s team are better with the Belgian in it, he delivered it here. You won’t see a better cross than the one he planted on Sterling’s head for the first goal.
His assist for Aguero was also pinpoint — whipping the ball into the near post from the right. He should have had a hat-trick of assists before half-time and the only thing missing after his drilled pass into the penalty area just before half time was Ilkay Gundogan’s finish.
It’s safe to say no one’s as good as the 28-year-old in what he does.
Kevin De Bruyne has provided more assists since the start of the 2016-17 Premier League season than any other player in the division (38).
World-class creating once again. pic.twitter.com/M1uZBKDDyX
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 17, 2019
Last season’s hidden and slightly terrifying sub-text was that De Bruyne was really a non-participant. He appeared periodically, but never with his usual dynamic effect and so City, 98 points or not, could really have been considered under-power.
Without De Bruyne they remained an excellent side and were well worth their domestic treble, but with him and when endowed by his incredible command of abilities, all their virtues are accentuated.
But perhaps the most instructive part of his performance was just how often he found space in the same attacking areas and – yet – how powerless Tottenham were to subdue his influence.
If an in-form Raheem Sterling is deadly enough, how devastating will an in-form De Bruyne and the Englishman prove to be?
With David Silva ageing and retiring at the end of the season, City will be counting on the highly-rated Belgian to maintain consistency and fluidity in midfield.
He has shown how much of an asset he can be times and times over and on a day where the happy scoring Raheem Sterling might forget to lace his boots, the Belgian’s creativity will be highly needed to create a spark for another teammate or perhaps one of his as well.
City have one of the best attacking midfielders in the league in Kevin De Bruyne and he could yet be an important piece in their difficult quest to retain the title.