When a knee injury ruled out Kevin De Bruyne for February and March of Manchester City’s 2015/16, his club probably didn’t realise just how much they’d miss him.
Ultimately, it was season-ending: the Belgian missed seven matches, of which they won the first at Sunderland but then contrived to lose against Leicester (1-3), Tottenham (1-2), Liverpool (0-3) and Manchester United (0-1), and failed to beat Norwich.
Each defeat was a crippling blow; a sequence of fixtures that began with City three points behind Leicester in second place had left them 14 behind in sixth. De Bruyne scored on his return to first-team action against Bournemouth, one of 17 goals in a promising debut season at the Etihad Stadium, but by then it was too late.
Fast-forward almost eight months and a fit De Bruyne is demonstrating why City always knew their £55 million investment was a safe bet. He’d already impressed in his first season – injury just came at the worst time possible – and in 2016/17 he’s picked up where he left off.
After 12 games of the campaign De Bruyne was already two assists clear of any other player (7), having missed one match with a hamstring tweak. Two goals were welcome bonuses, particularly a fine finish in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford in September.
He opened the scoring after zipping away from Daley Blind and finishing coolly past David de Gea, and then had a hand in No.2 when he hit the post and Kelechi Iheanacho stabbed into an empty net from six yards out. City were effervescent that day, and their 25-year-old playmaker epitomised that confidence from the start.
It’s a commodity De Bruyne is not lacking; he is well aware of his majestic ability as a genuine world-class player who can help separate City from mediocrity and greatness in their biggest matches. When they beat Barcelona 3-1 at the Etihad it was the Belgian playmaker who thumped in the free-kick that made it 2-1.
There’s a case to argue that he’s the Premier League’s best player. He's edged it over Sergio Aguero for us – if only just – but it doesn’t matter a jot to Pep Guardiola, who has the top flight’s two finest stars feeding off one another like a modern-day Summerbee-Law double act.
It’s easy to look back now and wonder why Jose Mourinho never gave him the opportunities at Chelsea that his current ability would have commanded, but De Bruyne was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He needed his permanent breakaway to Germany to establish himself as the bona fide star he is today, very much in the right place at the right time.
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FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016
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