You had to laugh. Pep Guardiola was telling Kevin De Bruyne to keep it simple and four minutes into the game we had Manchester City’s talismanic midfielder attempting a daring 25-yard pass with the outside of his right boot.
The night, the cheers and the match ball may have belonged to Erling Haaland, a man chasing records at a frightening pace, but this was also a timely reminder of the particular joys of De Bruyne, a midfielder as special as the Nordic goal for City. The machine is a single striker.
City’s clubbed brothers smashed RB Leipzig with a ferocity that at times felt cruel and unfair and, if Guardiola can harness his two most prized assets to this effect for the remainder of the competition, it will raise hopes in Manchester’s blue light district. This is finally being the season where the wait for Champions League glory ends.
De Bruyne has had hot and cold moments this season (the incredible consistency of recent seasons punctuated by some unusually flat and occasionally uneven performances) and a player who had so far been indispensable to Guardiola has found himself heating up the bench more than usual. what would you like. or wait in the last few months. This, then, marked a devastating return to form.
Perhaps it was little more than coincidence that De Bruyne played so well just one day after his coach told him to get better, do the basics better, not give the ball away cheaply and improve his game, but he didn’t feel nor was it seen like a coincidence. Quite the opposite, really.
De Bruyne was enthusiastic; a man with a point to prove. On the edge, in the zone, call it what you want, but that thirst for destruction was etched on his face. Like Haaland, you could almost taste the hunger in him. He not only wanted to win, he wanted to bring a wrecking ball to his opponents, make them suffer.
It was evident in the way he pressed and connected after every ball, flew through every tackle, beleaguered poor Leipzig and even in the way he tore at Slavko Vincic after the referee failed to award him a free kick. De Bruyne was booked for bothering him. City, probably worth remembering, were already 6-0 up at that stage. But De Bruyne’s appetite was insatiable. Maybe Guardiola should provoke him a little more often.
When the board went up a few minutes earlier and Guardiola called the changes, De Bruyne could be seen leaning out and looking like a man desperate for his number not to be called. Haaland withdrew, and John Stones and Rodri too, but De Bruyne fulfilled his wish to continue imposing punishments, so Leipzig was not granted the reprieve he so badly needed.
He was still banging the drum in the 90th minute and claimed the goal his performance amply deserved, muffling Riyad Mahrez’s pass with a bunt, moving the ball to his right with a second in and then doubling a 20-yard finish into the top corner. with his third to aggravate the misery of Leipzig.
There’s a wild beauty in watching De Bruyne control a game and bend it to his will, especially when it goes for the jugular. Take the role of him in City’s second goal, which was the perfect showcase for the relentless Haaland-De Bruyne dynamic. On De Bruyne’s side, there are left-footed players who could also have struggled to control a bouncing ball on the run. Then the next touch, also with his left, set up the shot, which he caught with his left and smashed against the bar before Haaland headed in on the rebound.
When De Bruyne’s tail is up, you can bet your bottom dollar Haaland’s will be too and there’s something quite inspiring about seeing these two giants unload defenses with such speed, power and precision. It would certainly be interesting to see how other managers would use the pair given the chance. Would they play faster and more direct more often? Here Guardiola got the best of all worlds, a potent combination of control, control, control and fast and furious football, signed, sealed and delivered by his blackjack brothers.