De Bruyne recovers his best version on the way to the Bernabéu | Soccer | Sports

Period teams tend to gravitate around great figures. Sparkling personalities. Players and men with some charm or charisma. Pep Guardiola often says that the current Manchester City squad is the gathering of footballers with the greatest sense of effort, camaraderie, humility and solidarity that he has led in his career. But if the current Champions League champion and the absolute reference for excellence in the Premier League is characterized by something, it is the absence of a blinding star. The closest thing to that is the lackluster Kevin de Bruyne, at 32 years old, the most difficult player in the group to manage. An unpredictable maestro who this Saturday at Selhurst Park started accommodating and ended up adjusting his conductor’s suit to lead City to a comeback that ended in a party (1-4) two days after visiting the Bernabéu in the first leg of the quarterfinals. Champions League final. “Today Kevin won the game,” said Guardiola.


Dean Henderson, Joachim Andersen, Joel Ward, Jefferson Lerma, Will Hughes (Naouirou Ahamada, min. 82), Adam Wharton, Tyrick Mitchell (Clyne, min. 74), Daniel Muñoz, Eberechi Eze (Schlupp, min. 64), J Ayew (Michael Olise, min. 74) and Mateta (Edouard, min. 74)


M. City

Stefan Ortega, John Stones, Rúben Dias, Gvardiol (Manuel Akanji, min. 45), Rodrigo (Kovacic, min. 73), Julián Álvarez (Matheus, min. 73), De Bruyne (Bernardo Silva, min. 92), Rico Lewis, Grealish, Erling Braut Haaland and Oscar Bobb

Goals 1-0 min. 3: Mateta. 1-1 min. 13: De Bruyne. 1-2 min. 47: Rico Lewis. 1-3 min. 66: Erling Braut Haaland. 1-4 min. 69: De Bruyne. 2-4 min. 85: Edward.

Referee Paul Tierney

Yellow cards Gvardiol (min. 46) and Mateta (min. 62)

Guardiola removed De Bruyne from the field at Anfield on March 10, in a day marked by the protests of the substitute, unable to go to the bench without staging a revolt. It was not the first time. Nor was it a surprise that De Bruyne entered the Liverpool field with a lackadaisical attitude. The player has been walking a thorny frontier for years. He combines the tendency to gain weight with the inclination to conform. Forced to multiply his mobility by rivals who increasingly close in response to City’s offensive play, the man alternates days of self-denial with days of fatigue.

Nobody has a more tense shot or a more surgical pass. It’s just a matter of not being assaulted by gloomy thoughts that induce melancholy and an urgent need to play by settling in instead of assuming the difficult responsibility of getting into the opposing pressure nodes to receive the ball. ”When I hear him laugh in training, when I see his positive body language, I stay calm because I know that we will be in good hands,” said the City coach at the end of the game. “Kevin is more expressive of his mood than most players.”

Crystal Palace appeared as the penultimate in a series of concertina trenches in City’s path. Six days after playing against Arsenal, two days after hosting Aston Villa, and two days before traveling to Madrid, the match in south London threatened like an ambush in the gorge towards the outcome of the most disputed Premier League in history . Led by Austrian Olivier Glasner, the same one who eliminated Barça from the Europa League in 2022, Palace boasts one of the most solid and well-stocked lower blocks in England. One more in the long list of armored vehicles that multiply their thickness against City’s bullets with each season. In addition, full of excellent players like Wharton, Hughes, Eze, Ayew or Mateta. Guys capable of putting together the most precise and fastest counterattack imaginable in the third minute to take the lead (1-0) and subject City to an endurance test. Let’s see what wood it is made of.

Guardiola had reserved Silva and Foden, two decisive players in recent days. De Bruyne occupied the inside left, exchanging with Grealish, who served as a false winger. Contrary to procedures used in previous campaigns, City did not rotate the game from side to side but rather shortened the changes of orientation. Short passes and short turns through the middle formed the basis of the attack. City hangs fewer and fewer balls from the sides, since rivals like Palace have learned to defend the centers with so many people inside the block that they free up the wings to invite them to throw them at them. That’s what they expected from Grealish when in the 13th minute he went outside and came back inside to connect with De Bruyne. The Belgian entered through the inside lane and put in the hammer that he has for his left foot. The ball went into the corner: 1-1.

Guardiola had given him a rest after the Anfield episode. Physical problems, the club alleged. “It has been a complicated season for him, due to injuries,” explained the coach. This Wednesday he returned to the stands against Aston Villa. And at Selhurst Park, he returned to the starting team. With ups and downs, sometimes trying to receive the ball without working on the advantages, De Bruyne started the game in a marquis style and ended up looking for the ball in compromised positions, where the opponent’s pressure burns, from lane to lane behind Haaland. “After six years, except sleeping together we have done everything,” Guardiola once said of the Belgian. “I want to see him catch the ball in motion, not with his foot, or staying in a fixed position. “I want to see him move to appear and contact.”

It is the great paradox of De Bruyne. The best standing shooter in the squad, and probably in the world, needs to avoid by all means remaining static and waiting comfortably for the ball to be brought to him so as not to block City’s advances. He did that in the second half at Selhurst Park with a display of concentration and agility to interpret all the scenarios that were formed, also in defense. The pass from him to Haaland after 1-1, a 30-meter assist that broke two lines and did not end in a goal because the goalkeeper took out the toe of his boot, was a gift to the fans.

Grealish and the partner who gives meaning to his dribbling

Henderson, the local goalkeeper, was planted as well as his interiors and his forwards on a strange afternoon for City. The defense of the northern team, the foundation of his stability along with Rodri, did not have its brightest hour. Gvardiol, Stones and Dias did not measure the distances well at 1-0. Every time the team lost the ball, a sea of ​​uncertainty opened behind Rodri. Guardiola’s team only carried out the game out of self-denial, because Rico Lewis does not stop growing, because Julián Álvarez is a stubborn unchecker, and because Grealish discovered that every time he invented something De Bruyne offered him to multiply his creations with an association . In the plan of movements and short passes in the interior lanes carried out by his Bruyne team, he does not need so much physical display as much as great doses of attention to find the space in which to receive the ball at the right moment.

Lewis pushed the score to 1-2 after a poor clearance by the centre-backs after the break and another association between Grealish on the outside and De Bruyne on the inside lane caused the late stampede of Anderson, leader of the local defence, and led to the pass to Haaland, who made it 1-3 after two games with a blank score. Palace were reeling when De Bruyne signed his masterpiece. He started the play in the reference midfield position, behind Rodri, who went up between the lines. When the play opened towards Grealish and the Englishman connected with Rodri on the edge of the area, the Spaniard looked to his left and activated the red-haired arrival. There, in the open field between the pivots and the center backs, De Bruyne appeared with his hammer. The 1-4 score secured the three points for City in a match that ended 2-4 and placed the sky blue team level with Liverpool, with one game less, at the top of the standings with 70 points. It was a fleeting co-leadership. Two hours later Arsenal defeated Brighton and scored 71 points.

“Without Kevin we probably wouldn’t have managed to win,” concluded Guardiola; “We talk about tactics and coaches but give me players like that and the games will be simplified. He was out for five months this season and it has been difficult for him to find his level. But he has a special talent for finding the final pass, as we saw today. He is one of the best players in our history.”

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