Tuesday 11 December 2018

De Bruyne admits exhausted City will relish well-earned break

De Bruyne:
De Bruyne: "We’ve only got 15 or 16 players available at the moment, so we need to get through it." AFP/Getty Images

Ian Whittell

Kevin De Bruyne says he is playing in a state of exhaustion at the moment as Manchester City's players savour the four-day break afforded to them by manager Pep Guardiola.

The prospect of a refreshed and revitalised City should be a sobering one for any team hoping to stop them.

City were below their sparkling best at Turf Moor, nobody more so than England forward Raheem Sterling whose incredible miss in front of an open goal from two yards will long be remembered.

But despite fatigue that reduced De Bruyne to using an expletive, the Belgian still put in a performance that would have done a middle-distance Olympian proud as he set City's tempo, harried and hounded opponents and chased every lost cause.

Guardiola's team has played 22 games in 11 weeks since the last international break with De Bruyne featuring in 20 of them. If anyone is deserving of a 96-hour hiatus in the sunshine, it is the man who has been the figurehead of what is now the best ever 26-game opening to a top flight campaign in football history.

"I'm going away, it doesn't matter where," said De Bruyne following Saturday's 1-1 draw with Burnley. "It will do us a lot of good, I was feeling it from the first minute today.

"I've said it before - you feel great for 10 games, then you feel OK for 10 games, and then the rest you feel like s***.

"You know, we've got to do what we've got to do. We've only got 15 or 16 players available at the moment, so we need to get through it.

"We should have won the game, but nobody is complaining about the way we played."

For City, this could be the most successful season ever in English football.

After 25 games, they had an identical record with the magnificent Tottenham Double-winning team of 1960-61, and the point at Burnley bettered Bill Nicholson's side, who lost their 26th.

It is also worth remembering that, by that stage of the season, Spurs had played one additional game - a third-round FA Cup tie.

As of Saturday evening, City had 39 matches on the clock, little wonder Guardiola had seven first-team regulars absent through injury, prompting him to name just six substitutes on his bench.

He claimed, unconvincingly, that he had not wished to call up a young academy player to fill out his squad because they had a fixture on Friday evening, but it was also tempting to interpret it as the City manager making a point at what he perceives to be a lack of protection from referees towards his senior players in recent games.

This should still have been a comfortable win and would have been but for Sterling's astonishing footwork in somehow steering Kyle Walker's cross the wrong side of a post after 70 minutes.

Danilo's magnificent first-half strike had handed City the lead, only for the Clarets to draw inspiration from Sterling's error and claim an equally impressive 82nd-minute equaliser through Johann Berg Gudmundsson's volley.

De Bruyne and his team-mates at least showed more understanding towards Sterling than did Guardiola, who substituted him two minutes after his miss.

"OK, he missed some chances but that happens," said De Bruyne.

"He has scored nearly 20 goals already this season. It's one game. We play 60-odd games. It happens."

Burnley's ninth consecutive league game without victory had to be put in context as manager Sean Dyche had injury problems of his own, yet found an effective game-plan to stifle City building from the back.

"We wanted to try and make things awkward for them," said Clarets captain Ben Mee, a former City junior. "We took our chances to press them. Sometimes, they got out, sometimes, we managed to put them under pressure.

"We didn't want to sit back on the edge of our box and invite pressure. The quality they've got, they're going to hurt you." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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