The Belgium superstar has replaced Yaya Toure, and is becoming a hybrid of all-time City greats under the Spanish gaffer, who is at his innovative best. A look at how Pep Guardiola is forming Kevin de Bruyne into a Manchester City master.
Those who were lucky enough to be present and witness such a masterful, prevalent and regnant display from Kevin De Bruyne against Stoke City, probably haven’t seen a better midfield performance in their lifetime – and team performance for that matter.
Apart from another fantastic assist he got against Napoli last night, there was three passes he made last Saturday which simply had Manchester City fans with hands on heads. No, not because they wasted a chance, but from the sheer disbelief at the Belgian’s vision and weight of pass – even David Silva at his best might have to move over for this man.
But the dominance of De Bruyne is all down to one man, who has come up with another positional masterclass, as he, Pep Guardiola, shows once again something other managers cannot see – even so, wouldn’t even pluck up the courage to try.
Arguably the most successful manager of his generation has used his genius, to take a glance at an ageing Yaya Toure – and has proclaimed an honest truth. One in which many of the Etihad faithful have struggled to come to terms with. The Ivorian just isn’t what he used to be.
Toure, with his ever-present powerhouse qualities in the centre of the field was somewhat brilliant at everything, but Guardiola, with a reputation of replacing the greats, has moulded those traits onto an now-matured attacking midfielder in De Bruyne.
The decision he has made to use the Belgian as the future and current linchpin of City was conceivably on the cards, but to give him responsibility in a position which seemed undisputed by City’s number 42, perhaps takes more guts than any of his past decision’s, including Joe Hart’s exit – it also takes someone like the former manager of Barcelona to pull it off.
We have been witness to Pep’s previous arsenal of unorthodox positions on the pitch. He was the father of the ‘false nine’ role at Barcelona in 2010, which included Lionel Messi as a centre-forward, but also dropping into midfield to start the attack; then in 2014 at Bayern Munich, where he re-wrote the rules on formation and positional sense – sporting Philip Lahm, Xabi Alonso and David Alaba in front of a two-man defence in a 2-3-5 formation. Now in 2017, the position he has formed one he has made with De Bruyne now is ‘the Free Eight’.
The Free Eight
The ‘Free Eight’ position is an undefined spin on a traditional number eight role (box-to-box midfielder), and the catch is that creatively, he can roam. If he wants to go forward, out-wide, in front of the centre-backs, he can. Pep’s requirements is intelligence, graft, versatility, the ability to read the game, but also to defend in front of the back four, speed, goals, and most important – composure. De Bruyne has been found at centre-back on many occasions trying to orchestrate an attack. Did we ever envision a role like this for someone who was a number 10 style player? City’s number 17 certainly has all of this in abundance, thus making him the perfect admittance into the role.
Only a small handful of midfield greats in City’s history that have carried such traits that have very much caught the eye of the fans – the skill-set on each player made them legends.
Colin Bell. He was a fantastic goal scoring midfielder and the engine of the silverware accumulating team between the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.
Paul Lake’s versatility and vision in centre midfield up until his shock injury in 1990 would have made him into the potential England skipper for many years to come.
There’s a great resemblance in these players with the Belgian, and adding Toure’s technical ability, this makes De Bruyne an almost complete player – a hybrid of those City greats.
No player has had such affect from midfield so far in England than the Belgium international. He has the best assists-per-minute ratio in Premier League history; the second most assist behind team mate Silva, which says that he’s constantly creating from deep, wide or a more central attacking position. In other words – everywhere.
He’s been at his most influential in almost every game. More notable in the games against Shahktar Donetsk and Chelsea in the second half of both games. Instead of dead-eye passing, this time it was two thunderous strikes which left both respected goalkeepers no chance – and won City both matches. What was even more impressive in these fixtures was the ability to slot into a defensive-midfield position next to Fernandinho and win back the ball – also asking his teammates in defence for the ball. At times, as well as the 6-0 demolition of Watford, it looked as if he was receiving the ball at centre-back to kick-start passing sequences. Like Toure, the man seems to be just good at everything.
Slowly but surely, De Bruyne is the man to replace the great Ivorian at City. Everything in evidence this season says that. The team in the foreseeable future will be built around the Belgian, no doubt. When he first came to the Etihad, he was seen as the ‘£54million ex-Chelsea failure’, and as for those who believed in that statement – will fail to see what this already world class player is merging into.