Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
It's the type of news every football fan fears the most: rumours emerge that your star player has picked up an injury, and it might be a bad one. That was how Wednesday afternoon panned out for Manchester City fans.
The rumours were true, confirmed when De Bruyne hobbled into a Manchester cinema that night for the premiere of a City documentary that debuts this week: the Belgian had torn the lateral ligament in his knee on the training ground.
Having sent the player to be examined by the trusted Dr Cugat in Barcelona, the club will have been pleased to learn that De Bruyne won't be needing surgery. However, losing a player who was locked in a two-way tussle for the PFA Player of the Year award last season is naturally a massive blow to the Citizens.
De Bruyne is central to much of City’s attacking intent, a master of decision-making, efficiency and pinpoint passing, City's quarterback as club captain Vincent Kompany refers to him. A player with no weak foot who can operate across wide areas of the pitch.
In a team of stars, he still stands out. Any team would miss him. But how will Manchester City cope without him?
An injury is never good timing, especially to a key player. But whilst Kevin De Bruyne will be missed in the Manchester City side, there are mitigating circumstances that might alleviate the damage for City and their fans.
For one, De Bruyne has picked the best time to get injured. With a succession of winnable games and the impending International breaks, better now to pick up an injury than at the key stages of the season in March and April.
City host Huddersfield for their first home game of the season this weekend before playing Wolverhampton Wanders, Newcastle United, Fulham, Cardiff City and Brighton. Each of these teams has been promoted in the last two seasons, making all these fixtures winnable whichever team Guardiola decides to field.
Action Images via Reuters/John SibleyThe loss from a 2-3 month injury would be felt most profoundly when City travel to Anfield in October but they tend to lose there anyway. A tough Champions League draw could also pose problems but, as league champions, City are in Pot 1 so should expect to get through the group regardless.
There is, perhaps, a silver lining to this: last season De Bruyne admitted suffering from fatigue from January onwards. With a full recovery from injury, he could see the remainder of the season out without such concerns.
And whilst it seems illogical to say it, De Bruyne is not in the top five of biggest losses even if he is potentially the best player in the squad. There is an abundance of talent ready to take his place in his central midfield position even if they do not possess his unique skill set.
Losing a player like Fernandinho or Ederson might be far more destructive for City's season because there is no player of the same quality to step in.
Pep Guardiola will already be formulating alternatives during De Bruyne’s absence.
The Belgian did not start for City’s Community Shield victory nor their league opener at the Emirates, so his absence is nothing new. Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden starred in the first game but Guardiola turned to experience for the Arsenal match, preferring Ilkay Gundogan which produced mixed results.
REUTERS/Eddie KeoghWith David Silva hopefully over his niggling injury, the question for Guardiola is whether a pairing of the “two Silvas” weakens the midfield due to their similar attributes. Against defensive teams in the coming weeks that may not be much of a hindrance.
So far in the Premier League, Guardiola has only trusted Phil Foden against teams weaker than Arsenal. All football fans love to see a locally born academy player break through, though, and if De Bruyne’s lengthy absence helps aid Foden’s development in the first team squad, that would be a significant consolation.
Fluidity in attack
Another issue to consider is the effect on City’s wide players and their second forward, Gabriel Jesus.
Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane would naturally have expected plenty of playing time this season but De Bruyne’s injury may increase further their time on the pitch.
Three players comfortable out wide are not obvious replacements for a player like De Bruyne who revels in a central role.
REUTERS/Phil NobleHowever, Guardiola has shown repeatedly in his two years at the Etihad that he does not operate with players in fixed positions. As a result, all three could move centrally either during matches as a tactical switch or even operate there from the start.
For Gabriel Jesus, who was relegated to the bench against Arsenal, the opportunity may arise for playing time if Guardiola wheels out his 3-5-2 formation for the games ahead, especially if he sees potential in that formation breaking down stubborn, defensive sides.
Not a disaster
Given Kevin De Bruyne was pencilled in to return to the starting side for City’s next game, his injury is naturally bad news for him and the team as a whole.
In a team packed with top class players, he was still something of a talisman, a player that could devastate from central and wide positions, a player who could be the key difference in tight games.
However, City can cope without him. The football calendar is not only kind in the coming weeks but the squad is possibly the deepest it has ever been in the club’s history.
There's a reason Pep Guardiola wants two top players for every position: City lost their left back last season for over six months and it made little difference to their relentless pursuit of league glory, even without recognised back up.
Beyond De Bruyne there is an embarrassment of riches for Guardiola to utilise and, if the Belgian maestro can return within two or three months, his absence should not be too costly.