These articles are dual-focused, analysing a player’s role at their club from a footballing perspective before considering whether that information translates into them being a viable consideration for our FPL teams. This instalment discusses Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.
After such an outstanding 2017/18 in which Mohamed Salah pipped him to the PFA Player of the Year Award, few could have expected Kevin De Bruyne to notch just a pair of Premier League goals and assists in 2018/19. In a season blighted by injuries, the Belgian only managed 124 minutes of league football before Christmas. As this excellent piece from The Players Tribune discusses, it was a difficult season for De Bruyne on a personal level, particularly following a second knee injury of the season picked up in the 2-0 Carabao Cup win over Fulham.
It also indicates the responsibility that Pep Guardiola has placed on De Bruyne from the start of his tenure as Manchester City manager, who told him that he can easily be one of the five best players in the world. Since then, De Bruyne has become the complete midfielder, adept in the defensive side of the game when pressing the opposition to win the ball back quickly alongside a passing range that very few players in the world possess.
Guardiola’s development of De Bruyne as a more tactically versatile player has been beneficial for the Belgian national team too. Roberto Martinez’s favoured system has been a 3-4-2-1 and De Bruyne is a natural fit for one of the two slots behind main striker Romelu Lukaku. However, he is often used as one of two central midfielders in front of the back three, giving him additional defensive responsibilities that he would have perhaps not been capable of fulfilling without Guardiola’s influence.
Kyle Walker is another of Manchester City’s players to benefit in this way. In certain matches, Guardiola has opted to utilise Raheem Sterling on the right and Leroy Sane as wingers that are required to hug the touchline and leave the half-spaces clear for the likes of De Bruyne and David Silva to step into. In turn, the full-backs are pushed narrower to provide initial support to the midfield after City have overturned possession. The use of Walker in this more central role improved his footballing intelligence and prompted Gareth Southgate to feel comfortable enough to play him in a back three for England at the 2018 World Cup.
But regardless of Guardiola’s tactical preferences, the formation has rarely veered away from a variant of 4-3-3. As mentioned, De Bruyne carries responsibilities defensively, indicated by his 62 tackles in 2017/18 which was the joint most at the club and level with Fernandinho. Those two managing more than any of the club’s defenders is a result of City’s propensity to win the ball back high up the pitch, enabling swifter counter-attacks in the process.
However, he is also important as part of City’s chance creation production line. The quality of those chances is obvious as even despite featuring in just half of the club’s league matches, his tally of 11 big chances created was only bettered by 10 players in the league. Meanwhile, in both 2016/17 and 2017/18, he topped that metric as a result of his supreme passing range putting opportunities on a plate for teammates.
Looking ahead to next season, a fully fit De Bruyne will be able to immediately cement his place back in Manchester City’s midfield. With Phil Foden still developing and David Silva entering his final year at the club, neither are in a position to be first-choice ahead of two of the league’s outstanding players from the last two seasons in De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.
Any attacking midfielder with De Bruyne’s quality playing in a team like Manchester City will be directly involved in goals on a regular basis. Based on that and his circa 200 point FPL returns in 2016/17 and 2017/18, a price similar to last season’s £10.0m starting valuation should be expected.
As a midfielder, De Bruyne has everything and if he can avoid another injury-plagued season, the footballing world will be reminded of that in 2019/20.