The Man City player who can give Pep Guardiola’s side the edge over Liverpool FC next season – Charlotte Duncker
The heat and humidity levels were so high the team’s new Puma away kit had stuck to him but, despite the oppressive conditions, De Bruyne didn’t stop.
For the third game in succession the Belgian was everywhere. He was the key to nearly every Manchester City move as they pressed high against Kitchee and then dropped back to offer defensive cover when their Hong Kong opponents went on the attack.
The majority of the game was played at a strolling pace. In fact, the training session at Mong Kok Stadium the day before was more intense at times than the 6-1 win that won City the Jockey Club Kitchee Centre Cup. While some of his teammates gradually walked around the pitch De Bruyne was sprinting to win back possession and start another move.
It’s the third time the 28-year-old has put in that level of performance on tour.
After an impressive show against West Ham in the second half of the opening tour game De Bruyne said he felt good.
“I felt really good,” De Bruyne said after the 4-1 win. “Obviously we are just here for four days and it’s been a bit of a mess but we made it here and to play the way we did the first game of the season after just over 24-hours is really good for us.”
And then followed his most impeccable display of the tour, against a Wolves side who are nearing the end of pre-season and are aiming to push into the top six last season. He dominated again. The midfielder was one of the main reasons why Nuno’s side failed to string three passes together or get into City’s box in the first 25 minutes of the game.
An all round dominant performance perfectly summed up by *that* ball to Leroy Sane in the first half: class. It seemed somewhat appropriate his best performance of pre-season so far came against Wolves, the side who were the first to take points off City last season in a game where De Bruyne’s absence was notable.
During a season where City won everything domestically it’s easy to forget they did so without one, if not the best players in their squad. The Belgian only made 11 starts in the league last season and when he returned after his long spell out it took him a number of weeks to get back to peak De Bruyne level.
But based on his pre-season performances the 28-year-old is very near to being back to his best. When City won the league the season before last the midfielder was key to that, putting in monster performances every three days and after three displays on tour he looks as though he can replicate the same form that saw him named the club player of the year in 2017/18.
Liverpool look likely to be City’s closest rivals for the title again but haven’t had the same fortunes on their pre-season campaign so far, losing both of their games and still without a number of their best player and, with just under two weeks of the transfer window remaining, Jurgen Klopp has yet to add to his side either.
While City have secured Rodri and Angelino the real difference in the race for the title next season might be that a De Bruyne who manages to keep fit for an entire season could end up being like a new signing for Guardiola.
That in itself could be enough to give City the edge over Liverpool yet again.