By Faraz T. Toor
Pundits and football fans alike are already raving about Manchester City’s start to their 2015-2016 season, and rightfully so. The Citizens have not only taken all nine possible points in the Barclays Premier League, but they have won them in a fashion that is by far the most dominant in the league. Just look at their goal differential.
But if Manchester City add Kevin De Bruyne to their lineup, you should start raving just as much about their out-of-England matches.
That’s how much a De Bruyne transfer would boost City. He is exactly what they need to break through their group draw and finally take a step forward in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) Knockout Phase.
While De Bruyne has not officially donned sky blue colors yet, there are dazzling possibilities for him in Manchester. In 34 VFL Wolfsburg Bundesliga games last season, De Bruyne had 10 goals and 20 assists, including two and one, respectively, against Bayern Munich in January, one of the stingiest defenses in the world. How many other Bundesliga players accumulated double-digit assists in that league campaign? That would be three, all of whom were at least eight assists behind the Belgian wonder kid.
Plop those numbers and raw skills in Etihad Stadium, and the rest of the Premier League likely will have to continue chasing Man City for the remaining 35 matches. Don’t expect De Bruyne to reproduce those same statistics for City, as he played central midfield for Wolfsburg and probably would have to play on a wing because David Silva is already the team’s central midfielder, but he would still be quite productive for the Citizens.
It’s harder for a midfielder to play on the wings compared to the hot zone central midfield, but De Bruyne has been tipped to be a major youth talent for years because of his passing ability. And he is craft enough to play on the wings too, especially since he is also a strong scorer and has a plethora of great passers around him. Silva, Yaya Toure, and Raheem Sterling are some of the best passers in Europe and would only stretch out opposing defenses even more to unleash De Bruyne from the wings, or vice-versa.
That combination behind Sergio Aguero is one that would make Man City the favorite in every EPL match that they play and could produce over 100 goals in the league again, as each player contributed to at least 14 goals last season.
But De Bruyne’s full value for City, if he transfers, would likely not even be in the Premier League. He’s instead a big thorn in the side of the club’s European opponents.
Sure, City are in the Group of Death in the Group Stage again, as Borussia Monchengladbach, Sevilla, and Juventus, three of the best teams in their respective domestic leagues, are in Group D with them. But the De Bruyne signing would lengthen the bench for City, and that is essential for them to make it out of their group.
As strong as the club has looked in the EPL season’s first three games, any manager will tell you that a deep roster filled with world class players is the best remedy for four competitions. In the first and second half of the season, City, like any team in the Champions League, will have their hands full with numerous two-match weeks.
But when a club has so many stars that some can’t even sniff the pitch every weekend in the league, that’s when it shines in Europe. Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini needs players 1A and 1B so that in multiple weeks one group can handle the EPL games and one can handle UCL matches a few days later.
De Bruyne fits that 1A category. If De Bruyne joins the club, then Jesus Navas, the current midfielder on the wing, would likely lose his spot in the EPL starting XI and can then start UCL games, or vice-versa when Pellegrini decides he can have Navas, the 1B player, take on a less important league game.
That firepower flexibility is significant in soccer, perhaps more than any other sport. City don’t want to plug in true bench players in mid-week matches to preserve their best footballers. Navas may have struggled last season and produced only three goals and 11 assists, but he’s a positive option over numerous other players in these extra games.
Instead of having to play Wilfried Bony, Fernando, and Fernandinho in the same game, Pellegrini could leave one off his Champions League starting XI and slot in Navas, the usual starter. That would be a significant upgrade over having to start Bony, Fernando, and Fernandinho or overworking the best midfielders, and it would all be thanks to De Bruyne suiting up in a new shade of blue.
City certainly didn’t have a dearth of midfield options before, but to win their Group of Death, they’ll need to brim with great passers. In addition to facing Sevilla, the Europa League winners the last two years, Man City must combat two of the best defenses in Europe: Juventus (allowed just 40 goals in 57 games last season) and Gladbach (surrendered only eight more goals than Bayern did in the 2014-2015 Bundesliga campaign).
Pellegrini’s club already has a defense that can compete with those two teams, as it has yet to allow a goal in the EPL this season, so a midfield flush with passing and scoring options is practically a necessity for the Citizens to win those tight games against Juve and Gladbach. And with Aguero seemingly always missing at least some games due to injury, it only helps City to have major attacking options at the ready in case their best striker cannot lace up his boots in the next three months.
These are the ingredients for a powerhouse club to have a big season. A hot start in the league, a great goalkeeper, an improved defense, and a super stacked midfield—you can’t do much better than that. City have looked good on paper in years past, but this might be the first time that this much transfer talent has arrived in a season in which City have played this dominantly. So what happens when a club has so many great players that there hardly seems to be a difference between the starting lineup and the bench? You might just have to check Manchester City’s Champions League season to see.