Can City retain their Premier League crown without Kevin De Bruyne?
By Bluemoon Staff, Tue 29 August 2023 17:40
City have dominated the English football landscape for the best part of six seasons now. Pep Guardiola has earned 11 major honours since arriving at the Etihad in 2016 and established himself as the best manager in the world as a result. The Spaniard will undoubtedly go down as one of if not the greatest coach in the club’s history and rightfully so. His immense record is just one of the reason’s the Cityzens are once again favourites to lift the Premier League trophy aloft in 2023/24 and seal a fourth consecutive title in the process. The success of his tenure is indisputable but a significant contributor to that success are the players at his disposal and top of that list has to be the king of assists, Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian international has been one of the first names on the team sheet since Guardiola’s arrival. The 32-year-old’s passing ability is second to none and there are few that would dare doubt his credentials as one of the greatest midfielders to ever grace the pitch. He is an integral part of this team and City are undeniably stronger with him than without him. All things considered then, the news that the talismanic midfielder faces a long spell out on the sidelines with a hamstring injury deals a potential hammer blow to the club’s Premier League title chances. How will the team fare without the pre-eminent passer? And will this see City lose vital ground to their challengers in the race for domestic honours this season?
De Bruyne’s season took an unwanted turn when after only 24 minutes of the new campaign the midfielder was forced to limp off against Burnley. The image of the Belgian wandering off will be the last City fans see of the player on a pitch for what is rumoured to be four months. If that assessment proves to be the case, his recovery timeline takes us all the way to the hugely significant fixture congested Christmas period where title challenges have been known to often fade into the background or come to the fore. So even if the midfielder passes the fitness checks, it isn’t a certainty that Guardiola would risk reintroducing the previously injured star into the starting XI at such a crucial time in the league campaign. But that’s a matter for then, as for the here and now City will have to look to fill in for the Belgian. It won’t be an easy task though as Guardiola accepts that finding a like-for-like trade off for the Belgian is essentially impossible, even with the luxury of options at his disposal. Speaking in a press conference ahead of the club’s UEFA Super Cup victory over Spanish side Sevilla, the Man City boss said: "The injury for Kevin is a sore blow for us. But at the same time we have to look forward. The skills of Kevin are irreplaceable but it's an opportunity for others and I'm sure they will take it."Even though the team will struggle to compensate for the absence of De Bruyne, there are few sides that could boast as much quality on their bench as City do. Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva, Mateo Kovacic and Rodri are but a few names that could take up the post and while some of those are better suited than others to play a similar role to that of the Belgian, they are all world class footballers in their own right and can do a job if called upon. Just look at Phil Foden in the Super Cup win for evidence of that; by no means the most convincing display, but one that eventually saw the Cityzens win out. It’s worth noting as well that City have been here before, take the Champions League finals for instance. The devastating loss to Chelsea in 2021 exemplified how big a loss he can be but the strength of character in this team was on full display in the 2023 final. None of the names listed above could hope to play the role of splitting defences wide open with picture perfect passes as De Bruyne does but there is enough quality there to provide something of use to Guardiola’s gameplan.
Betting with Trustly sites still have Man City as the 2/1 favourites to win the league even without their star man but where the concern will lie is whether the midfield can manage to pull off what De Bruyne was so good at last year, finding Erling Haaland. The Norwegian superstar’s darting runs in behind were a nightmare for defences to deal with last season; barely anyone could lay a hand on the prolific goalscorer as he broke countless records in his debut Premier League campaign. Not only did the 23-year-old net a gargantuan tally of 35 goals in the English top flight last season, but in doing so he became the highest scoring player in a single season in PL history, the highest scoring player in a single season in all competitions and the fastest player to score ten Premier League goals. His goalscoring exploits were ultimately the reason City won the title and while the forward’s talents would’ve seen him net a fair few any with or without De Bruyne in the side, there is no question the young talent benefited a great deal from the Belgian’s nack of looking up and finding the right pass at the right time. De Bruyne assisted Haaland for 13 of his strikes last season, nearly half of the Belgian’s final tally of 31 assists in all competitions. Without those contributions City could have been in a very different situation both domestically and in European competition. Haaland is obviously an extraordinary player and will score goals regardless of who supplies them but there is little doubt that De Bruyne certainly made it easier than others for the Norwegian to find the back of the net last term. Without him, doubts may linger as to whether Haaland can be as potent a threat when leading City’s attack. While the injury doesn’t take him out of the entire season, a lot of damage can be done to a team’s title aspirations in four months. Whether this unfortunate twist of fate takes control of the title race entirely out of City’s hands is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but one thing is for certain, it makes their task of holding onto their crown considerably more difficult.