Could Kevin de Bruyne’s latest injury derail Manchester City’s season?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City during Manchester City Open Training Session at Manchester City Football Academy on August 26, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Manchester City FC/Man City via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City during Manchester City Open Training Session at Manchester City Football Academy on August 26, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Manchester City FC/Man City via Getty Images) /

2018-19 has been a frustrating campaign for Manchester City’s Belgian superstar.

Manchester City has once again looked utterly dominant in Pep Guardiola’s third season in charge. The Citizens’ far-fetched dreams of claiming an unprecedented “quadruple” remain alive, even in spite of a slew of injuries to some of their squad’s most important players.

Perhaps the biggest season-altering event of City’s campaign, however, came in Saturday’s 1-0 win on the South Coast against Bournemouth. Kevin De Bruyne, arguably the best attacking midfielder in the world when on form, clutched his leg following a non-contact muscular injury just before the halftime whistle to compound a difficult season for the Belgian. De Bruyne has already missed significant time this season with knee ligament issues, appearing in just 14 of City’s 29 Premier League matches, and has yet to rediscover his best form when he has been on the pitch.

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Guardiola confirmed that the midfielder would be “out for a while” in his post-match press conference. 

In an extremely busy period of fixtures, City has already lost star central midfielder Fernandinho, a key presence in the middle of the park as a cover for the back four as well as a tempo-setting outlet in the attack at the base of the midfield. In addition to the Brazilian, City has seen injuries to their two first-choice central defenders, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, as well as another long-term layoff for fullback Benjamin Mendy.

City has shown an ability to cope with their injury woes to this point thanks to a tremendous amount of squad depth. Following De Bruyne’s initial knee injury in November, Portuguese winger Bernardo Silva excelled in his stead and locked down a regular starting place in the side. With a wealth of options in attack, including Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sané, and Raheem Sterling, City will need to rely on their depth in order to keep their dreams of a historic season alive.

Even with the Citizens’ plethora of talent, however, none can replace De Bruyne in terms of importance. Last season, when City registered a record 100 points en route to their third Premier League title, the Belgian represented the creative heart of a side that also scored the most goals in league history (106). De Bruyne finished second in PFA Player of the Year voting to Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, who claimed the Golden Boot with a record-setting 32 goal campaign.

De Bruyne personifies the quintessential Guardiola attacking midfielder; he is one of the world’s greatest passers with excellent shooting and dribbling abilities, as well as the tactical awareness to make intelligent off-ball runs.

Manchester City has already found it difficult to recapture the success of 2017-18. While they managed to defend their Carabao Cup title following a penalty shootout victory over Chelsea, the Citizens remain locked in the most tightly-contested Premier League title race since the 2013-14 season. The Blues won the title last year by 19 points over second-place Manchester United, but will not defend their crown so easily in 2018-19.

City currently sits atop the Premier League’s summit on 71 points, although second-place Liverpool will have the opportunity to return to the top of the table should they win their game in hand, a Merseyside Derby clash at Goodison Park on Sunday. The Reds have been fantastic this season, losing their only game of the campaign at the Etihad against the league leaders. Without De Bruyne, City may struggle to match Liverpool across the final stretch of games, especially as two other competitions place further strain upon the squad.

The Citizens are also widely considered to be among the favourites to lift the Champions League, a status that could be thrown into doubt with the absence of their star man. If the Belgian were to miss two months following Saturday’s setback, he would not be available until the semi-final’s first leg, a stage the Blues failed to qualify for last year after falling to Liverpool in the quarter-final. City is heavily favoured to advance from their current Round of 16 ties, as they lead Schalke 3-2 heading back to Manchester for the second leg, but could struggle with a difficult draw in the next round.

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Even though Manchester City are perhaps the best-equipped club in the world to handle losing its best player, the midfielder’s creative absence could create a void too large for the Blues to achieve their lofty aspirations. If Guardiola’s City is to be considered as one of our generation’s greatest sides, they will be forced to truly earn that recognition in the final three months of the campaign with De Bruyne sitting on the sidelines.