LONDON – Kevin De Bruyne returned to Stamford Bridge with a point to prove on Saturday.
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Manchester City’s Belgian attacker was sold by Chelsea in January 2014 after never really getting a chance under Jose Mourinho to prove he was good enough.
Now it is clear he is.
He hammered home that point ruthlessly with a virtuoso display of fluid forward running and launched multiple incisive counter attacks to leave Chelsea’s midfield and defense in a spin.
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One Chelsea fan shouted out “De Bruyne, come back to Chelsea!” in the second half after the ginger wizard had already done the damage in City’s 3-0 demolition of his former club which strengthens their grip on a top four finish. Sure, the criminally underrated Sergio Aguero scored all three goals as City dismantled a Chelsea team in transition and lacking conviction but De Bruyne ran the show.
For City’s first two goals he launched counter attacks with astonishing speed. On the first he raced cleared after a Chelsea corner was cleared and still had the poise to pick out Aguero on the edge of the box as the Argentine curled home.
De Bruyne then saved his best moment of the match for the second goal. Again, a Chelsea attack broke down and City fed the ball to De Bruyne 10 yards outside his own box. With one touch he tapped it past both Cesar Azpilicueta and Cesc Fabregas before running around the outside of them and sprinting 50-yards up the pitch.
De Bruyne fed Samir Nasri who then played in Aguero to finish. Bang. Just like that. Game over. Chelsea’s fans were left almost as green with envy as City’s luminous jerseys.
Since De Bruyne returned following almost three months out through injury, City is five games unbeaten. He has scored three times, including the game-winner against Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal last week to seal City’s spot in the final four.
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Mourinho decided that De Bruyne wasn’t good enough for Chelsea and sold him to Wolfsburg for $25 million in 2014. He said Eden Hazard played in his position and was better. That’s fair enough but KDB has surpassed his countryman over the past 12 months and after his $75 million move back to the PL last August, he’s now the key component which makes City’s glittering offense click.
Manuel Pellegrini was delighted with City’s display afterwards as they momentarily moved into third place on 60 points. Asked about De Bruyne, Pellegrini didn’t speak about him individually but believes City’s offense is firing on all cylinders know De Bruyne, Samir Nasri and others are back fit.
Was De Bruyne especially fired up to show Chelsea what they are missing?
“No I didn’t think Kevin was thinking about that,” Pellegrini said. “He left Chelsea because he wanted to play in Germany. Seeing the way he plays the last game and what he did before he was injured. I think that we are very happy to have him and that is the reason we bought him.”
A moment which perhaps was the most pleasing for De Bruyne came in the first half. After drifting off the right flank to find space in front of Chelsea’s back four he ran free in the center and was one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois. His Belgian teammate saved well down low and soon after De Bruyne took a corner in front of the Chelsea fans. They applauded him warmly.
Chelsea’s interim boss Guus Hiddink found it hard to hide his admiration for De Bruyne too.
“He is very keen playing in-between the lines and all of the players are and they know to find him,” Hiddink told ProSoccerTalk. “He is a beautiful player to see.”
Hiddink was then asked if he would have let De Bruyne leave if he would have been in charge a few years ago?
“It is always easy to give now analysis of that,” Hiddink said. “You have to into consideration and look at why the decision was made at that time. Maybe there was competition in the team with three or four other players in his position. I can’t answer that now. He developed himself very well, to be honest. It is good to see.”
De Bruyne may have never played a starring role during his time at Chelsea — he played just nine times and spent time on loan at Werder Bremen — but he is at City. With the UCL semifinal against Real Madrid coming up on Apr. 26 and May 4, De Bruyne is City’s go-to man and knits everything together.
His decision to cut ties with Chelsea two years ago to develop and play consistently elsewhere was a good one. Chelsea’s fans saw that firsthand on Saturday as he tormented and haunted them on his return to the Bridge in the Premier League.