As Man City prepares for four-to-six weeks without Kevin De Bruyne — a period with some brutal and pivotal Premier League tests — it’s tempting to look past his immense value by citing Man City’s depth.
And it’s true that City is one of few teams with supreme attacking depth in the world, Liverpool and Chelsea among them in England, but KDB is somehow seriously overlooked for what he brings to the table.
[ MORE: PL Player Power Rankings ]
It’s probably because City managed a long-term De Bruyne injury in a PL title-winning season, and also because we salute goal scorers more than assist men. There’s a flow chart that then salutes center backs more than defensive mids, etc, but that’s a story for another day.
So how big of an obstacle is De Bruyne’s absence, stat- and schedule-wise?
Who’s next? A troubling run without the league’s best
Man City is off to Cheltenham in the FA Cup on Saturday, and then will face:
- West Brom away on Tuesday
- Sheffield United at home, Jan. 30
- Burnley away, Feb. 3
- Liverpool away, Feb. 7
- Tottenham at home, Feb. 13 (four weeks – Feb. 19)
- Arsenal away, Feb. 21
- Borussia Monchengladbach at home, Feb. 24
- West Ham at home, Feb. 27 (six weeks – March 5
- Manchester United at home, March 6
- Fulham away, March 13
- Borussia Monchengladbach away, March 16
So a hyper healing De Bruyne is still very likely to be at less than 100 percent (at best) for Spurs and Arsenal, and any setbacks mean no KDB in the derby at the Etihad.
De Bruyne in context
De Bruyne matched Thierry Henry’s Premier League single-season assist record with 20 last season, and was on pace to better it this season with three goals and 10 assists through 17 appearances.
That puts him at 164 career assists in all competitions with Genk, Wolfsburg, Chelsea, Werder Bremen, and — of course — Man City.
Put in perspective, he’s the 10th member of the Premier League era’s career assist list for the 76 he’s collected in 172 appearances.
Premier League career assist leaders (all-time appearance rank)
1. Ryan Giggs — 162 assists, 632 appearances (2)
2. Cesc Fabregas — 111 assists, 350 appearances (75)
3. Wayne Rooney — 103 assists, 491 appearances (17)
4. Frank Lampard — 102 assists, 609 appearances (3)
5. Dennis Bergkamp — 94 assists, 315 appearances (114)
6. David Silva — 93 assists, 309 appearances (120)
7. Steven Gerrard — 92 assists, 504 appearances (11)
8. James Milner — 85 assists, 549 appearances (5)
9. David Beckham — 80 assists, 265 appearances (206)
10. Kevin De Bruyne — 76 assists, 172 appearances (510)
Five of those players are in the PL’s top 20 for career appearances. De Bruyne is 29 and sits 510th.
So while he’s not likely to catch Giggs, the Belgian is an elite, elite, elite, cream of the crop playmaker in English football history.
And imagine if City had healthy Aguero-level finishing the past 1.5 years.
How has City done without KDB v big clubs (and all clubs)?
De Bruyne returned to the Premier League in 2015 with a 65-minute turn in a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Sept. 12, 2015.
But in evaluating the potential impact of his absence on City, let’s fast-forward to Aug. 13, 2016. That’s a year into his time at City and the debut of Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.
City beat Sunderland 2-1 that day, with Pep heaping praise on John Stones and Nolito (both new transfers, surely a coincidence).
De Bruyne was more or less the story of the next six weeks, registering at least a goal or an assist in five-straight matches City won by a combined score of 16-4. That stretch includes a goal in a 2-1 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford.
So how has City fared with and without KDB in Premier League play versus the traditional “big six” of Arsenal, Spurs, Man United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?
City w/o KDB v. other big six sides:
4W-2D-2L, 1.75 points-per-game
City w/ KDB v. other big six sides:
20-7D-10L, 1.81 points-per-game
KDB’s stats v. other big six sides:
12 goals, 10 assists in 37 matches
City has played approximately 18% of its matches versus big six rivals without De Bruyne. If you projected that record over the other 82% and compare it to the 1.81 ppg they collected with De Bruyne on the pitch they’d lose… 2.25 points total.
So that might be worth something on a stretch run.
What’s the answer?
The easiest one is simply better play from Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Riyad Mahrez that allows Phil Foden to flourish in the few-strings-attached role Guardiola’s given KDB.
Beyond that, City’s actually even better suited to deal with a De Bruyne absence this year due to their incredible defensive improvement with Ruben Dias and John Stones leading the way.
When there’s a triangle of Dias, Stones or Aymeric Laporte, and Rodri joined by Ilkay Gundogan, a lot of savvy and veteran bases are covered.
This is a big hit to City’s title hopes but it’s not disqualifying by any means. Get well soon KDB.