Pep Guardiola urges Kevin De Bruyne to get back to basics in hunt for top form
Manchester City boss has challenged Belgian maestro to rediscover his best on Europe’s main stage
Pep Guardiola has challenged Kevin De Bruyne to raise his game by going back to basics as Manchester City’s season prepares to enter a defining period.
City face RB Leipzig in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie at the Etihad Stadium tonight and then play Vincent Kompany’s Championship leaders Burnley in the FA Cup quarter-finals four days later.
Whereas De Bruyne has long been indispensable to Guardiola, there have been signs over the past two months of that beginning to change. The Belgium midfielder has failed to start in six of the past 14 matches for which he has been available and his form has fluctuated, sometimes quite sharply.
De Bruyne missed the first leg against Leipzig in Germany through illness, when Marco Rose’s side came from behind to claim a deserved 1-1 draw and leave the tie delicately poised and is expected to start the return match. But Guardiola says he wants De Bruyne to start doing the “simple things” better in midfield as City target that elusive first Champions League crown and a fifth Premier League title in six seasons.
“It’s been a difficult season I would say for all of us, me included, with the World Cup and many things so I’d say the same – I’m not going to discover Kevin,” the City manager said. “Kevin has an ability to do it. What I’d like – I spoke many times to him – is to go to the easy principles and do it well. He has an incredible ability to make an assist, to score goals and see passes like no one else.
“But I always have belief they will increase and will get better when the simple things, like don’t lose the ball, the mobility, the incredible capacity to be active in the movement, the simple things, [you] do it again better and better. When this is going to happen the rest will come along.
“When the simple things are done perfectly – when we are in the right moment to move outside, inside and when we have to attack the channels or whatever you do or feel in that moment – the actions to create incredible passes that he, only he can find, will be easier. It will be better.”
While De Bruyne’s goals output has dropped this term, he has still claimed an impressive 17 assists – already three more than the entirety of last season – but his passing accuracy figures and minutes-per-goal involvement ratio have dropped quite noticeably.
Earlier in the season, De Bruyne provided what felt like a constant supply line for new signing Erling Haaland. But Guardiola’s insistence on the way his team controls possession and builds up the play has raised questions about whether City are making the most of Haaland’s runs in behind, particularly given De Bruyne’s range of passing, and whether a more direct approach on occasions would benefit them.
Asked if it was almost counter-intuitive to risk possession in order to get the most from Haaland’s runs, De Bruyne said: “Yes and no but sometimes it’s also good to have different options. Where maybe in the last few years people would say there was not that presence in the box or enough deep runs now people say the opposite.
“I feel like in the beginning of the season when everything was going in and we were winning a lot of games there was nothing going wrong and then when you lose a few points it’s different. I don’t feel there’s any issue.
“I’ve not heard anything from the team or Erling or anyone else. People outside will judge on how we play and maybe we’ve played a better brand of football in some games or other years but Crystal Palace at home, for instance, he won us the game. The team is really happy with him, I think he’s really happy playing with us so I think we’re fine.”
Despite two semi-finals and one final defeat in the Champions League, De Bruyne is adamant his career will not be defined by success or failure in the competition.
But while De Bruyne believes there are still plenty of good days ahead, the midfielder – who will be 32 in the summer – said he would have to decide if he was willing to continue playing at a lower level when his powers eventually wane.
“I’m a perfectionist. Whatever I do in football or life, I will always want it to be 100 per cent,” he said.
“In that regard, if the time would come that is something I would think about but it’s not necessarily now. If I think about it at this particular time, I would like to stay as high as possible for as long as possible but that isn’t only my decision. That’s something to think about but give me a little bit!
“When people talk about form and how people play, it’s give and take. I know how to manage that. I don’t know how long I’m going to play. As long as I’m having fun I will play football. Obviously, there will be a day where it will end but I’m not able to think about that yet.”
Manchester City v RB Leipzig, Live, RTÉ2/BT Sport 1, 8.0
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