Praise has deservedly been heaped on City strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in recent weeks as they have banged in the goals to move the team top of the table. But amid the clamour it is easy to forget the role that the side’s creative forces have played in the remarkable run of form, and one name stands above the rest. Kevin de Bruyne has developed into a tremendous midfielder under Pep Guardiola and he is pulling the strings to devastating effect in a deeper role. It bodes well for the future as Guardiola now has at his disposal a Xavi-Iniesta hybrid that can help the club stay at the top.
Of course, you would expect de Bruyne to be a brilliant player when you consider he was bought for £55 million at a tender age – a fee that still stands as City’s transfer record. But it is undeniable that Guardiola has made the Belgian a better player. He arrived as a precocious winger with one good season under his belt and blew hot and cold under Manuel Pellegrini. But Guardiola took the raw materials – magnificent technique, a great eye for a perfectly weighted pass, intelligent reading of the game – and turned it into something really special. De Bruyne is even more devastating when he can control the play in deeper areas and he acts as City’s metronome, setting the tone and the pace of play and releasing his teammates with razor sharp through balls aplenty.
As a creative force, he has surpassed even David Silva and that is saying something. He led the league with 18 assists last season, and seems destined to better that total in 2017-18. City are firing on all cylinders and Aguero and Gabriel will relish the opportunity to play with such an in-form midfield maestro. The ball he whipped into the box for Aguero to nod home against Watford at the weekend was the stuff dreams are made of. You could easily argue that de Bruyne is the best in his position in the league, better than Cristian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil, Philippe Coutinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. How Chelsea must regret letting the Belgian go for just £18 million. Nowadays he would be worth more than £100 million.
Guardiola had the magnificent Leo Messi at his disposal during his trophy-laden tenure at Barcelona, but the success was built on the best midfield in the world: Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Week in, week out that trio dominated possession, pressed hard, won the ball and set the tempo as Barca simply overwhelmed teams. While you can never replace players like for like, Guardiola has forged de Bruyne, Silva and Fernadinho into a very effective unit. Fernandinho has to play the disciplined Busquets role, but Silva and de Bruyne are often interchangeable and both have many of the qualities that made Xavi and Iniesta successful. Both are sensational passers of the ball, they can operate in tight spaces and retain possession, and they play with great flair. But Guardiola has also turned them into ball winners and de Bruyne has been excellent when the other team is in possession, making a forte out of winning the ball and setting his teammates on the counter-attack. He plays on the left, on the right, in the centre, it seems to shift every week, which turns preparation into a nightmare for opposition managers.
Man Utd are strong this season and Chelsea are in the mix, but right now the title looks like Man City’s to lose. They are now odds-on to win the league with some bookmakers, but you can still get even money or 11/10 if you shop around, so check out reviews of the best betting sites and find ones with competitive odds if you want to back the Citizens. With de Bruyne running the midfield, Aguero and Gabriel starring in attack and clean sheets become a regular feature, it certainly makes sense.