EPL

De Bruyne wants challenge to win back Man City spot, says Guardiola

By Sports Desk February 20, 2021

Kevin De Bruyne has a fight on his hands to win a place back in Manchester City's starting XI, but Pep Guardiola insists he would not have it any other way.

De Bruyne, the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year, made his return from a hamstring injury as a second-half substitute during City's 3-1 win over Everton in midweek – a result that increased their lead at the top of the Premier League to 10 points.

Guardiola's side won all five top-flight games De Bruyne missed, scoring 15 times and conceding once, while they also negotiated away ties at Cheltenham Town and Swansea City in the FA Cup.

It is a body of work that has helped to rack up a record-breaking 17-match winning run across all competitions.

Bernardo Silva has excelled on the right of Guardiola's fluid midfield three, as he did when De Bruyne missed chunks of City's treble-winning campaign of 2018-19, and this is another factor to give the City boss food for thought heading into Sunday's trip to Arsenal.

"I cannot forget, [during] this incredible run of games, Kevin was there," Guardiola said. "We have not done these incredible things without him.

"But, of course, it is a challenge. He has to play good. That is what we need. That's what I want and that's what he wants.

"The competition is so healthy, today in this crazy schedule – 11 months, playing every three days. It is not human to maintain mentally and physically."

In all competitions this season, City have won 15 of 21 games with De Bruyne in their starting line-up, drawing four and losing two.

However, that impressive win percentage figure of 71.4 vaults to 87.5 – 14 victories, two draws, no defeats – when he has been injured or taken out of the first XI to rest.

Guardiola believes watching on from the sidelines and witnessing fine performances is fuel for De Bruyne, whose 15 assists on all fronts remains the best return of any Premier League player in 2020-21, with only Bruno Fernandes (90) and Jack Grealish (79) able to better his 74 chances created.

"It is so good, when a player is out injured or for my decisions, seeing his mates playing good and winning games. That is the best way to be a competitor, the best way," said Guardiola.

"We cannot be a competitor team if everyone knows, 'It doesn't matter what happens, I am going to play.'

"They have to play good to stay in the team because they know, when they are not playing good, they have no chance to stay in the team."

This sense of collective endeavour is backed up by City's capacity to work effectively off the ball – a hallmark of all Guardiola's best sides.

No team in the Premier League has had more high turnovers resulting in a shot this term than their 49, with Brighton and Hove Albion second on 35.

In terms of winning the ball back within 40 metres of the opposition goal, only Liverpool (227) have done so more often than City (224) this season.

However, perhaps with an eye on the compressed schedule Guardiola mentioned, it also appears his team are working smarter.

In 2019-20, City ranked third in the division behind Liverpool and Southampton when it came to pressed sequences – defined by Opta as passages of play where an opponent has three or fewer passes and it ends within 40 metres of their own goal.

This time around, they lie sixth on that metric and are allowing rivals an average of 11.9 passes per defensive action (PPDA), as opposed to 10.1 last term – figures that underline an increased efficiency to their pressing, given the impressive high turnover numbers.

"It's about being effective when you run. If you run, run, run you are not effective," Guardiola said. "The ball is quicker, the opponents are better and you can run like a marathon and not take the ball.

"I am pretty sure you cannot take the ball if you make an endurance season or go 100 per cent in all the actions.

"We can talk about this a little bit but we are more concerned… 80 or 90 per cent of our talks are about keeping the ball. It is about how you do with the ball, not without the ball.

"All the times we run, we run to take the ball, to keep the ball as much as possible. I never consider putting the players on the pitch just to follow the opponent.

"We have to do it when the opponent is better but when they decide to be football players they do it to play with the ball.

"I want them to come back to the amateur feeling that they enjoy playing football because there is the ball."

Another Guardiola belief where the returning De Bruyne would appear to be a key disciple.

Related items

  • Wales boss Page: Bale move to Cardiff would 'tick all the boxes' Wales boss Page: Bale move to Cardiff would 'tick all the boxes'

    Gareth Bale returning to Cardiff to play for his hometown club "ticks all the boxes" according to Wales boss Robert Page.

    Bale's contract at Real Madrid will expire at the end of this season, with only two games remaining for Los Blancos – Friday's home game against Real Betis to end the LaLiga season, before next Saturday's Champions League final with Liverpool.

    While speculation around a potential retirement should Wales fail to qualify for the World Cup persists, he would likely need to find a new club in the event they progress past Scotland or Ukraine in June's playoff.

    In response to rumours of a move to Cardiff for Bale, Page asserted that is simply feels right but respects his captain's right to make his own decisions after the playoff.

    "It ticks all the boxes," he said. "Ultimately, it's Gareth's decision and Cardiff City's.

    "I think he's right to say 'Let's throw full focus on to the fifth [of June]. Let's get there first and have that discussion.

    "We can carry on talking about it and guess, have our opinion, and it does make sense. It makes a lot of sense. He can base himself at a training ground he's familiar with."

    Bale has made a solitary appearance in LaLiga since February, coming on as a substitute late in the second half of Real Madrid's win over Getafe in April.

    He has been sidelined with back problems since, with Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti even revealing it immobilised him at times.

    The 32-year-old was named in Wales' 27-man squad for the June window, which includes four Nations League games, but could join camp if he is not named in Madrid's Champions League final squad.

    "We will keep in touch with him," Page said. "It's common sense that if he is not going to feature at all, and Real Madrid are happy with releasing him, then of course we would like him on camp.

    “They don’t have to. We don’t have the players [officially] until the 30th, so we can’t pull rank on that.

    “We just have to go with what they suggest. Rightly so because he’s employed by the club, but if there’s an opportunity to get players in earlier then we would like that.”

  • Patrick Vieira confronted by Everton fan after dramatic Crystal Palace collapse Patrick Vieira confronted by Everton fan after dramatic Crystal Palace collapse

    Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira was involved in an altercation with an Everton fan following his team's 3-2 defeat at Goodison Park on Thursday.

    Palace threw away a 2-0 half-time lead in the second half, and the dramatic victory for the Toffees ensured their Premier League status for another season.

    The delirious home fans descended onto the pitch after the final whistle to celebrate, but one fan approached Vieira and appeared to taunt him.

    The former Arsenal midfielder initially ignored the man, before turning to confront him, seeming to kick out before being ushered away by other Everton supporters.

    Vieira refused to speak about the incident in his post-match media conference, though his opposite number Frank Lampard said he "felt" for the Frenchman being put in that situation.

    "I feel for Patrick," the Everton boss said at his own media conference. "I didn't get him at the end. I would have said, 'come in with us' – although he might not have wanted that.

    "Of course he ran 80 yards across the pitch and it's not easy."

    This was not the first unsavoury incident to take place in English football in the last week involving pitch invasions, with a Nottingham Forest fan being arrested and later jailed for assaulting Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp following Forest's penalty shoot-out win in the Championship playoff semi-finals on Tuesday.

    There were further concerns raised about fans endangering players during pitch invasions after both League Two playoff games involving Mansfield Town and Northampton Town on Wednesday, and Swindon Town and Port Vale on Thursday.

    On the fans coming onto the pitch, Lampard added: "It was pure elation of fans who have come on the pitch after avoiding relegation.

    "If it is done in the right way let them stay on the pitch, let them have their moment. As long as they behave, no problem."

  • 'He is our Mo Salah' – Tuchel wants fix for Kante's fitness issues 'He is our Mo Salah' – Tuchel wants fix for Kante's fitness issues

    Thomas Tuchel said Chelsea must find a solution to N'Golo Kante's fitness struggles after the Blues came from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Leicester City.

    Marcos Alonso volleyed home to cancel out James Maddison's opener in front of Todd Boehly, part of a consortium looking to take ownership of the club, with the Blues all but securing a third-place finish in the Premier League despite having won just one of their last five league games (three draws, one loss).

    Tuchel's men have now drawn 11 league games during a frustrating season, more than they have managed in a single campaign since recording 10 stalemates when finishing 10th in 2015-16.

    World Cup winner Kante played the first 72 minutes against his former club before being replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but has been linked with a move away with his Stamford Bridge contract due to expire in 2023.

    The 31-year-old has only started 20 of the Blues' 37 league games this term, featuring for a total of just 1,688 minutes in the Premier League and missing out entirely on 12 of the team's league fixtures.

    Speaking in his post-match press conference, Tuchel said the midfielder was Chelsea's "key player", stressing the need to resolve his fitness issues.

    Tuchel also likened Kante to the players such as Mohammed Salah, Kylian Mbappe and several other world stars, claiming he lifts the rest of the side when fit.

    "I think he is our key, key, key player, but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch. He plays only 40 per cent of the games, so then it is maybe a miracle that we arrive in third place," Tuchel said.

    "He is our Mo Salah, he is our [Virgil] van Dijk, he is our [Kevin] De Bruyne. He is simply that player, he is our Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

    "He is that guy who makes the difference and if you only have him for 40 per cent then it is a huge problem. Given that percentage, it is maybe a miracle that he produces results. 

    "It puts everything into perspective as I saw Liverpool without Van Dijk last season and they struggled heavily. You see the difference. N'Golo is our key player and we need him on the pitch.

    "It's hard to live with. It's important for him to be there and to have the rhythm. I think he played okay but he can play so much better. But when was the last game he started? It was weeks ago. So he constantly starts getting rhythm, but once he has that, there comes a little injury and he's out again.

    "Last year, in the last five matches of the Champions League, he got the [man of the match] trophy. This guy who gets man of the match in every Champions League game, he is only here for 40-something per cent of the matches. This is huge for us."

    Meanwhile, Chelsea were once again left to rely on their wing-backs to provide attacking impetus against the Foxes, with Reece James claiming his eighth league assist of the season by teeing up Alonso's goal.

    James has now created twice as many goals this season as in his previous two Premier League campaigns combined (four assists in 56 appearances), while the Blues also racked up 20 shots to Leicester's two over the course of the contest.

    Christian Pulisic was guilty of missing Chelsea's best chance to claim a second-half winner as the hosts created 1.64 expected goals (xG) to the Foxes' 0.09, and while Tuchel was content with his team's performance, he was again left to bemoan their lack of cutting edge.  

    "We were the better team and deserved to win," he added. "We didn't allow any chances and got punished by a shot from outside the box. We created enough to win, didn't allow transitions and chances for Leicester. So, I am fine with the performance.

    "It's a bit of a broken record, we did not take what we deserve. We needed a goal from a wing-back and an assist from a wing-back."

    Chelsea will round off their Premier League campaign with another home match on Sunday, when relegated Watford travel to Stamford Bridge.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.