There has been a flurry of reports coming out of the Etihad training campus this week suggesting that Manchester City player of the season Kevin De Bruyne has suffered a right knee injury that will likely keep him out for at least 3 months.
The club have not given any official statement to the Belgian midfielder’s health, but will most likely do so after tests are run to know the severity of the injury.
De Bruyne was the creative spark and stylistic engineer of Man City’s 100 point title winning season last year, meaning, a life without the Belgian maestro could take time to adjust, even if it is for a short period of time.
But, how could Pep Gaurdiola line up in KDB’s absences?
Call on the Two Silva’s
Bernardo Silva was brought in last season as a utility player, able to play of the right if Raheem Sterling was injured or tired, while also being able to fill David Silva’s role in midfield next to De Bruyne.
We saw the latter happen midseason, as David Silva was dealing with some personal issues off the field, leaving Bernardo to slot in. The former Monaco man did well in central midfield, mostly shifty towards the right in his creation, but never slowing down or faltering Pep’s system. Bernardo has also played in this role throughout preseason and Man City’s opener against Arsenal where he showed that maybe he would overtake his namesake this season with his performance.
And now with KDB out, Pep could give Bernardo and David Silva a run in tandem to fill their midfield.
This would cause a tactically change for Man City because David Silva is not the pacey, powerful figure that De Bruyne is. Silva isn’t able to ping balls from midfield into a full speed Sane, or muscle off two players then put his foot through the ball from outside the box.
Silva is nuance player, finding the tricky slip ins or cheeky over the top balls or the casual low crosses in the 18-yard box. He likes to find space where he can be picked out, then attack the box from there.
So to make this work, Pep will have to rely on passing purposefully and quickly, using his full-backs to help drive into the box to deliver the final balls. This would allow David Silva to still move freely about the pitch while Bernardo sits deeper and finds the outlets, not hindering creation nor obstructing roles for the two.
Time For Youth?
After an impressive U-17 World Cup, Phil Foden is on the tip of every City fans’ tongue. The attacking midfielder looks to have an incredibly bright future ahead of himself, and his manager believes the same, electing to give Foden 10 senior appearances last season and a start in the Community Shield recently.
Foden is a natural attacker, looking to make runs from deep and deliver the final ball if he doesn’t have the angle to shoot. The U-17 international looks to already have Pep’s attention and could slot in, at the very least, as a substitute more often than not during this period.
There is also Oleksandr Zinchenko, the 21-year-old Ukrainian international who filled in as a left-back many a time last season. Zinchenko, however, is not a natural defender, but actually a midfielder and winger, often playing both at PSV and FC Ufa before coming to the Eastlands.
Zinchenko is a bit De Bruyne-esque (even from left-back). Last season, he always looked energetic on the ball and loved running into midfield from the left, looking for a forward pass and almost never passing it sideways (classic Pep tactics of course for his full-backs). He could have something to say if Pep is worried about managing David Silva’s minutes with his age, possibly becoming part of Pep’s plans, in the center of the park, permanently.
The closest player in Man Cirt’s squad to KDB is Ilkay Gundogan. The German midfield has the same attacking and tactical mindset as De Bruyne, seeing a pass and then using his own efforts off the ball the continue a movement.
Slotting in Gundogan as a natural replacement is the most plausible option for Guardiola as it perhaps wouldn’t disrupt the midfield quite as vastly as any other option (bar Fabian Delph maybe?).
Gundogan loves to pass first, but is more hesitant to take chances compared to De Bruyne. The former Dortmund man is able to power forward though, leaving opposition to question if he’ll take a shot himself or is just a dummy that leads to his attackers running in behind for his final pass.
The German international is also very tricky on the ball, liable to shift his body weight to dribble past opposition which opens up the pitch for him to create.
With Gundogan in midfield, Man City will lose just a bit of the creativity De Bruyne gives you, but it isn’t like there aren’t enough players in that side to make something happen. Gundogan will bring the stability to the Centurions, something that is very much needed at the start of a new campaign.
With or without Kevin De Bruyne, the Eastlands will still be buzzing to keep their title defense strong. Pep Guardiola has a deep squad of absolute quality to choose from, even if it means switching a world-class player out for just a excellent one, but it will be an interesting sight to see how this stretches Manchester City who will want to not only repeat in the Premier League, but will want to be crowned kings of Europe as well.