Guardiola's right decision to bench De Bruyne at Anfield

Guardiola's right decision to bench De Bruyne at Anfield

The midfielder's irregular play at Liverpool forces the manager to replace the player.

At the beginning of Skyfall, when James Bond is authorised to return to MI5 duty after surviving an accidental shooting, Gareth Mallory warns him on his way out: "Look, you've been seriously wounded. There's no shame in saying you've lost a step. The only shame would be not admitting it until it's too late."

Kevin De Bruyne seems to be facing a similar crossroads in his career. Cheap Manchester City women's football shirts, having struggled to create a rhythm since his return to Pep Guardiola's squad in January. The 32-year-old missed the first half of the season after undergoing hamstring surgery, and made only his sixth start of the season. Cheap Premier League football shirts at Anfield on Sunday, when City held Liverpool to a thrilling 1-1 draw.

John Stones' opening goal was the result of a brilliant, quick-thinking move by Cheap Kevin De Bruyne football shirts, but from then on the player faded dramatically and Guardiola opted to replace him with Mateo Kovacic in the 69th minute. Although the midfielder was visibly frustrated by the decision, he had no legitimate reason to complain, with Guardiola saying frankly when asked about their subsequent tussle on the back line: "We were better afterwards."

Guardiola was absolutely right to take De Bruyne out of the firing line. This wasn't the first time he's been caught off the pace this year either, which raises an untimely dilemma for the City boss, who can't afford to carry any latecomers in his bid to deliver a record fourth domestic title.

Lack of basic requirements

It's safe to say that if it wasn't for De Bruyne's genius, City would have left Anfield with nothing. De Bruyne got his fifth assist in nine Premier League games after picking out Stones with a short corner midway through the first half, leaving the England defender with a simple point-blank finish.

There are very few players in world football who can make that kind of pass, or even have the vision and confidence to do so. De Bruyne's technique is a marvel, and he still manages to create something out of nothing in the tightest of games, even as he approaches his 33rd birthday.

However, during the game, he failed to fulfil the simplest requirements, such as getting on the ball regularly and regaining possession. City completely lost control of the game when Guardiola took him off.

He's not ready for 90-minute games

De Bruyne vented his frustration to Guardiola on the sideline, before reluctantly sitting down on the bench, and the Spanish coach sat down next to him to continue the discussion shortly afterwards. "We need a player who keeps the ball. It's not about pressing. It's not about pressing, it's not about his game. We were happy with Kevin. It's not a problem. We're fine," said Guardiola when asked about the incident.

Guardiola also promised that De Bruyne "will have an opportunity in the next game to prove how wrong I was", as City face Newcastle in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, but didn't specify whether he would keep his place in the starting line-up. Guardiola would risk keeping the Belgian international, who is showing clear signs of wear and tear after five months out of action.

Three weeks after he didn't "feel comfortable" enough to take the field in City's 1-0 win over Brentford, De Bruyne still doesn't seem ready for the rigours of 90-minute games, which begs the question: would an impact substitute role suit him better?

It wouldn't be surprising if Guardiola was considering it. For his winning machine to work properly, everyone has to be at 100 per cent, and De Bruyne doesn't fit into that category at the moment. The player is not without desire, but the way Liverpool dominated City in midfield will be a major concern for Guardiola, who can't afford to miss out on the final stretch of the season.

My hamstring felt like a wet paper towel

"Basically, I'm a 32-year-old footballer who's been playing for 15 years, played almost 700 games, had two hamstring injuries and the surgeon told me that my hamstring looked like a wet paper towel. The tendon was ruptured, they needed to clean it out and it was the best decision."

De Bruyne opened up refreshingly about the injury problems he has faced over the last year, limping out of his team's 2022-23 Champions League final win over Inter Milan before heading into the new season opener against Another hamstring injury suffered against Burnley.

City have coped perfectly with De Bruyne's recovery up to this point, and must continue to be cautious if they want him to return to optimum physical condition. The veteran player's best performance of the season so far came in the 6-2 win over Luton in the FA Cup fifth round, when he provided four assists for Erling Haaland, after which he insisted that he "feels good".

However, De Bruyne added: "I know that if you don't play for six months and you come back, you'll get headaches everywhere. it's normal and it's fine." The City player's Achilles tendon may be holding up, but he's feeling the strain in other parts of his body as he tries to adapt to the demands of three games a week at a club chasing the title on several fronts.

It's quite possible that he'll never be as robust or agile as he used to be. De Bruyne has already suffered serious injuries throughout his career, and the recovery process becomes increasingly difficult with age.

Lessons learnt for Pep

In the first 25 minutes of the second half at Anfield, Liverpool laid siege to City's net. Alexis Mac Allister scored from the penalty spot to equalise, before Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez missed golden opportunities to complete an epic comeback for Jurgen Klopp's side.

It wasn't until De Bruyne came on for Kovacic that City managed to stem the tide and regain the upper hand in possession. Kovacic had 36 touches in the final part of the game, two more than De Bruyne managed during his much longer spell on the pitch, and brought balance to the midfield alongside Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Rodri.

City were fortunate not to concede a penalty in stoppage time, after Jeremy Doku fouled Mac Allister, but only after the winger had hit the post following an arcing run, which meant Guardiola's team were able to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool after De Bruyne's necessary sacrifice.

In a fast-paced game, De Bruyne struggled to get involved as Liverpool pressed City high up the pitch and fed off the energy of a typically noisy Anfield crowd. He wasn't helped by Erling Haaland, who failed to be on target for City, but Kovacic was much happier receiving the ball under pressure and made sure the visitors kept it to disrupt Liverpool's momentum.

It was a valuable learning experience for Guardiola, especially with the big clash against new Premier League leaders Arsenal looming at the end of the month.

Will this be De Bruyne's last season at City?

De Bruyne's last performance for City will probably lead to increased speculation about his future. The Belgian international has just 15 months left on his contract and could sign a one-year extension at the Etihad Stadium.

However, De Bruyne is attracting interest from the Saudi Pro League, where he could earn a salary of one million pounds a week. A lucrative move to the MLS has also been considered, as the United States is believed to be more attractive to him than the Middle East.

To renew De Bruyne's contract, City will almost certainly have to increase his current weekly wage, which, at £400,000, is second only to Haaland's salary. It would be easy to justify if he was still the first name on Guardiola's payroll and led City's most recent trophy-winning campaign, but that's not the case.

De Bruyne still has an important role to play in the coming months, because City will need his ingenuity to open doors for teams that are content with a low block. His incredible assist against Liverpool proves that he can still make a difference in the most important games, but Manchester no longer depend on him as much as they used to - and he seems to be in a state of gradual decline.

What's next?

Maintaining harmony in the dressing room will also be essential if City are to win the title and perhaps an unprecedented second triple crown, as well as securing a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Guardiola may have minimised De Bruyne's outburst at Anfield, but he doesn't want to repeat the dose amid an exhausting schedule that leaves him no option but to rotate regularly.

De Bruyne's status as a City legend, and perhaps the best midfielder English football has ever seen, is set in stone no matter what happens between now and the end of the season. But like Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and David Silva before him, he's past his prime and has to adjust his expectations accordingly.

If he does that, a glorious last swansong at the Etihad is entirely possible. City fans, in particular, won't want to see De Bruyne written off while he still has so much to offer.

His main job now is to set an example to the club's younger players, such as Foden, Rico Lewis and Oscar Bobb, with the aim of eventually handing over the creative reins on a permanent basis. It's time for De Bruyne to admit that he's lost a step, before it's too late.


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