Evening all, and welcome to Friday. This morning, I woke up to the excellent news that the hamstring injury Kevin De Bruyne picked up in Manchester City’s last match – a 2-0 win against Aston Villa – will keep him out for up to six weeks.
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not celebrating the fact that De Bruyne is injured. Finding joy in someone else’s misfortune would be neither fair nor right. But what I am saying is that, now that De Bruyne is hurt – that is a fact that cannot be changed – I am happy it is for six weeks.
Six weeks is the Goldilocks of injury absences for the unethical and entirely biased football fan like myself (as long as it doesn’t happen to someone at my club, of course). It is just long enough to have a real, tangible impact on the team’s fortunes for a season – De Bruyne could miss as many as 10 games if the prognosis is accurate – but not quite long enough to have any long-term damaging effect on the player’s career. I’d have to be a pretty abominable individual to celebrate a broken leg or ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, but I see no harm in having a quiet smile to myself in this case. No-one was ever forced into a premature retirement because of a muscle strain, after all.
Adding to my joy, De Bruyne’s injury has come at the worst possible time for Man City. After a shaky start to the 20/21 season, which featured a heavy 5-2 home defeat to Leicester and a 1-1 draw away at newly-promoted Leeds, Pep Guardiola’s team have found their groove in recent weeks. In all competitions, they are unbeaten in the last 16 matches and away wins at both Manchester United and Chelsea feature in an unbroken run of nine successive victories. This steak has helped them up to second in the table, just two behind leaders Man United with a game in hand. As every other team in the league knows, when Manchester City – a footballing steam-train that has averaged 93 points over the past three Premier League seasons – starts to gather momentum, they are terrifically difficult to stop. As an Arsenal fan, this is not a prospect I particularly relish.
But if anything can derail City, it might just be an injury to De Bruyne. The 29-year-old has been a key figure in Guardiola’s title-winning sides over the past few seasons, establishing himself as unquestionably one of the best players in the world. Since joining from Wolfsburg in 2015, the Belgian has scored 60 goals and registered more than 100 assists in club football. Last season, he was crowned Premier League Player of the Year despite City’s failure to win a third-consecutive league title.
De Bruyne has also been a central figure in City’s recent reversal of fortunes. The Belgian’s crisp passing and purposeful running has seen him register 3 goals and a whopping 15 assists in 23 appearances this season. Assuming he is out for the whole of February, De Bruyne will miss crucial league encounters with title rivals Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal (cough cough), as well as the Champions League tie with Borussia Monchengladbach.
Thanks to the bottomless pockets of their owners City, of course, have extreme strength in depth. Guardiola can call on £60m Riyad Mahrez or £62.6m Rodri, for example, to fill De Bruyne’s considerable boots. But any team, no matter how good, would suffer from the absence of such talent.
The news of De Bruyne’s injury adds a layer of intrigue into what is shaping up to be a fascinating race for the Premier League title this season. Defending champions Liverpool are struggling, with no wins in the last five and their usually devastating front three of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino all losing form simultaneously. Leaders Man United are the form team, but the Red Devils have not sustained a title push since Alex Ferguson left in 2013 and few expect their momentum to last until May. Both Tottenham and Leicester have looked like potential champions in fits and starts, but you always feel a poor result or two is not far away. Meanwhile Chelsea and Arsenal, who are usually in the conversation, have far too much ground to make up at his stage.
That leaves City. With De Bruyne on form and in the side, Guardiola’s team were the clear favourites. Now, contending not only with De Bruyne’s absence but also the delayed comeback of Sergio Aguero, who has tested positive for Covid-19, City will do well to maintain their strong run.
As an Arsenal fan, I am usually slow to warm to anyone who plays for one of our rivals the what used to be known as the “Top Six (I will choose to skim over the fact that the Gunners lie currently in 10th place). But I am a long-time admirer of De Bruyne. Blessed with a perfect technique, he rarely makes the wrong decision and always plays with the right tempo. If he runs, he does so with drive and ambition. If a shot is required, he’ll strike it as firmly as needed. Every pass, meanwhile, is beautifully weighted and placed with Robin Hood-like accuracy.
But I can live without seeing him for a few weeks if it means the title race will be that bit more interesting. So don’t rush back, Kevin. Give that hammy plenty of time to heal.
Right, that’s all for today folks. I’ll send out the newsletter tomorrow morning as usual and I’ll be back here with more on Monday. Have a great weekend.
—How do you think De Bruyne’s injury will impact the Premier League title race? Let me know in the comments section below!—