After enduring a slow start to the season — by his standards — Kevin de Bruyne is arguably now in the best form of his Manchester City career.
Over the past few months he has blended multiple different styles and traits to become what must be close to the perfect midfielder. He is the lock-picker, the deep-lying quarterback, the surging box-to-box engine and the clinical finisher, all rolled into one.
Over his City career De Bruyne has, at one time or another, been all of these things. But never all at the same time. It’s hard to think of many other players in world football who have such an influence on their team’s fortunes. If De Bruyne plays well, City play well. If he doesn’t, which is rare, then City have a problem. That’s no criticism of City — he is just that good.
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City fans aren’t the only ones keen to lavish praise on the Belgian maestro. Among opposition supporters and pundits, De Bruyne is regarded as one of, if not the, best player in the Premier League. Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany became the first former City players to be inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame this week, a fitting recognition of two footballing greats.
Both are City legends without whom the club would not have achieved the level of success it has over the past decade. City fans adore them for an infinite number of reasons, but neither prompted the “ooohhs” and “ahhhs” of neutrals, and even rivals, quite like De Bruyne does.
So that begs the question: where does De Bruyne stand among the greatest midfielders in football history? Even at just 30 years old, the answer is surely ‘pretty highly’.
When comparing footballers of different generations, teams and positions, statistics don’t always tell you an awful lot. They omit the differences required in certain roles players are asked to perform by the respective managers, the quality of their respective teammates and teams.
But if we indulge in just a little number-crunching — by way of comparing De Bruyne with former Premier League creators Cesc Fabregas and David Silva — then it becomes clear that De Bruyne should already be regarded as one of the all-time great creative geniuses. .
In 350 league appearances Fabregas notched 111 assists, while City legend Silva tallied 93 in 309 games. De Bruyne — who has appeared in 205 Premier League matches — already has 82.
De Bruyne has only set up three goals this season, but that can largely be explained by the poor finishing of his teammates. No player in the league has made more key passes per 90 minutes (3.3) or shot-creating actions per 90 minutes (5.2). De Bruyne has the greatest disparity between his expected assists (6.2) and actual assists (three) this term.
When discussing the greatest midfielders of the modern era, names like Zinedine Zidane, Andrea Pirlo, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard spring to mind. All were different kinds of creative and attacking midfielders, but all had one thing in common — they did things on the pitch that left spectators open-mouthed, caused armchair fans to talk to their televisions and sent the most vociferous of rival supporters into stunned silence .
De Bruyne does all that on a weekly basis. Whether he’s threading a pass through the tinniest of gaps in a compact defence, surging forward with the team on his back or popping up to score a vital goal in a big game, City’s No.17 already deserves to be in the greatest-to- ever-do-it, Ballon D’Or levels of conversation.