News about Kevin De Bruyne’s injury in training took everyone by surprise. Manchester City have confirmed that the midfielder suffered a lateral collateral ligament (LLC) lesion in his right knee which will keep him out of action for up to three months.
It is a similar injury that kept him out for two months in 2016. He missed twelve games in all competitions between January and March, a crucial time in the season. It marked the beginning of the end to City’s dreams of a quadruple under then manager Manuel Pellegrini.
After initially winning the next two games with Fernando coming in to partner Fernandinho in defensive midfield, City lost the next three season-defining matches.
First, Leicester City beat the Sky Blues 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium to steal the initiative in the Premier League title race. A 2-1 loss to Tottenham at home in the next match saw Spurs overtake City as the main title rivals to the Foxes. A treble of catastrophic losses was completed when City’s youthful side was brushed aside by Chelsea in the FA Cup.
But the real impact of the 27-year-old in the team was not as pronounced as was seen last season. City dominated England with De Bruyne playing a starring role. His goals and assists helped the team to a league double. With 12 goals and 21 assists in 52 appearances, he was one of the most productive players in the Premier League.
His overall contribution to City singled him out as one of the best players both in the EPL and in Europe. He narrowly missed out on the PFA Player of the Year award to Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian having taken the Premier League by storm with his record-breaking goals for Liverpool.
However, the Belgian was Man City’s player of the year and rightly so.
Missing such a player will affect any team. Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus, and his absence was already felt in Real Madrid’s 4-2 loss to city neighbours Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. Lionel Messi has hit the ground running with a record-making brace for Barcelona in La Liga.
Diego Costa left Chelsea last season, and the club struggled to defend their title failing even to qualify for the Champions League. Mo Salah got Liverpool on their way for the new season as he opened the scoring against West Ham in the EPL.
All of these instances show the impact of a single player on a team. Despite Manchester City’s abundant riches in talent, De Bruyne remains the club’s best player by far. So he will be difficult to entirely replace for the time he will be out as his manager has stated.
“It is not easy to replace Kevin. We are going to try and do our best without him – and try to be there by the time he returns.”
The former Chelsea and Wolfsburg midfielder occupies a place in the team no other player can fill as a result of his work rate and overall contribution to the team. His goals, assists, passes, chances created, and so on separate him from the pack. Since his debut for City in 2015, no other player in the EPL has made more assists than him, 43.
All the same, if there is any manager in the modern game that can tweak his team to cope with any misfortune, it is Pep Guardiola. City faced a similar situation last term when Benjamin Mendy got a cruciate ligament tear that kept him out for most of the season.
It seemed a desperate situation as the team lacked a competent left back to fill the Frenchman’s boots. But in what turned out to be a stroke of genius, midfielders Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko were drafted into the position as a first and second choice. The duo performed so well the former Monaco star was not missed as the club broke the Premier League record for a total number of points in a season, 100.
Same can be expected with De Bruyne’s absence this time around although breaking such records is not the goal. Manchester City are seeking to retain the league title for the first time since Manchester United did it over a decade ago.
Players like Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and youngster Phil Foden all played a bit-part role last season. Any of these, particularly the first two can easily fill in for the mercurial midfielder. Add new signing Riyad Mahrez to the mix and City’s set-piece duties will be well taken care of.
That should be enough for the side to retain their league title. But that will only happen if Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham fail to step up as was the case last season. Whatever the case, it is very unlikely that Man City will have such a dominant season as the last one.