KEVIN DE BRUYNE may have missed that penalty yesterday – but he is still the key reason why I believe Manchester City will win the title.
Yes, his spot-kick failure in the 1-1 draw with champions Liverpool ensured City languish in 11th place in the Premier League, six points behind leaders Leicester.
And, yes, he had one of his quieter games in a match where both teams just about cancelled each other out.
But in the incredible talent that is De Bruyne boss Pep Guardiola has two world-class players for the price of one.
Where he plays depends on what the game dictates. And he can play two positions equally well.
If City play a 4-3-3 against a team lower down the table, that isn’t going to pressure too much, he can line up as a sitting midfielder. He can dictate from deep against teams that sit back against you.
Or he can play higher up the pitch – in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 – in that No 10 position if the opposition want to press high like Liverpool did, leaving gaps between their midfield and defence.
Those are the areas he wants to get into and although Jurgen Klopp’s team, who are absolute masters at implementing the pressing game, largely negated De Bruyne yesterday, he is up there with the very best at exploiting those openings.
And against teams that drop deep and leave no space between midfield and defence he can play that quarterback role – and he revels in that position too.
Other teams need two players to fulfil those roles but not City with De Bruyne – and that is incredibly rare in the Premier League.
That is why he deserves to be spoken of in the highest terms when it comes to naming the best midfielders in the world.
There is a second reason why City remain my tip for the title and that is their strength in depth.
Liverpool’s best XI, when everyone is fit, probably wins the league. And they showed that last year when they were magnificent.
But City have the greater strength in depth. Look at the bench yesterday when they had John Stones, Nathan Ake, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden on it – and they still have Sergio Aguero to come back.
Liverpool have good strength in depth but not at the level of City and that is set to prove vital in a season like this one, which is so compact, with games coming thick and fast.
What we have seen in the last few weeks is players getting muscle injuries because the season is so hectic.
Players are going to need to have a rest with the campaign being so compacted and we can already see the toll it is taking.
City have so much more ability to rest players and replace them like for like.
And the other big negative for Liverpool is the loss of Virgil van Dijk. Okay his absence was not exploited by Guardiola’s men yesterday.
But over the course of the season the loss of the Dutchman could prove as vital as City having the double-edged brilliance of De Bruyne.
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