Manchester City began last season on the sprint before slowing down after Christmas, yet something feels different this time around.
With expensive additions from around the world’s elite, Pep Guardiola looks to have brought his football machine to the British shores with world class in depth seemingly playing the way he wants.
Kevin de Bruyne was at the heart of a sensational City display that saw Mark Hughes’ Stoke City destroyed by seven goals to two.
Kevin De Bruyne’s game by numbers vs. Stoke:
100% take-ons completed
2 chances created
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 14, 2017
Pep Guardiola would stop short of calling this perfection simply because of the way Stoke, from 3-0 down, clawed a couple of goals back either side of half-time to threaten very briefly – that’s very briefly – to make this game competitive.
But in almost every other respect, this was the Guardiola blueprint being executed in vivid Technicolor and, on the day rivals Manchester United and Liverpool bored everyone senseless at Anfield, a victory for the purists.
United could win this intriguing title race but if City do – and they threw down another extraordinary marker here – it will be by persistently going for the jugular. And Sergio Aguero didn’t even get off the bench here.
There were so many good performances from a City perspective but it was one of the relative few not to get on the scoresheet who conducted the whole glorious production.
Guardiola felt Mauricio Pochettino had got the wrong end of the stick when he got the hump over the City manager’s recent reference to Tottenham as the “Harry Kane team” but, just as Spurs are so much less without the England striker, so this City side are so much more with De Bruyne providing the ammunition for a fearsome attack.
Kevin De Bruyne’s Man City career by numbers:
100 games 🏃
38 assists 🅰️
25 goals ⚽
The master creator. pic.twitter.com/lowbUAPykr
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 15, 2017
He doesn’t look much like a footballer, De Bruyne. To the naked eye he looks a tad podgy (he’s not), and those cheeks don’t half go red, but have appearances ever been so deceptive?
Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, claimed he was “head and shoulders above anyone else in the Premier League” and it is becoming increasingly hard to disagree.
It was a minefield trying to pick a highlight. De Bruyne’s gorgeous low pass that must have covered 30-plus yards before racing into that space between a despairing Geoff Cameron and Jack Butland for Leroy Sane to steer home for City’s sixth was the work of a master craftsman.
But as good as the pass that cut open Stoke’s poor defence in the lead-up to City’s second in the 19th minute? It will be watched and re-watched time and again this weekend and beyond, it was that good. Stoke’s players thought De Bruyne was shaping to shoot when he collected Sane’s pass on the edge of the penalty area but the Belgian had other ideas and, with wonderful disguise, sent both the helpless Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer one way while sliding a pass into the gaping hole he had created for himself.
Sane was the grateful recipient of the pass and he had the simple task of squaring for Sterling to side-foot home. Guardiola celebrated jubilantly from the touchline, hands above his head applauding, a beaming smile on his face.
“I am manager but I’m a spectator, too, you have to enjoy it,” he said. “So in that moment everyone expected Kevin to shoot – you don’t expect him to pass back into the same position he received the ball from.
“Again, we’re talking about Kevin. He’s such a dynamic player, always picks the right pass at the right tempo. When he has the ball, the wingers, the strikers, they know to move because the ball is coming their way. He’s a big, talented player.”
Most Premier League chances created this season: Kevin De Bruyne (26)
Most Premier League assists this season: David Silva (6)
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 16, 2017