Thursday 19 July 2018

De Bruyne has made City a real handful once again

Chelsea 0 Manchester City 3

Sergio Aguero celebrates with team mates after scoring the third goal for Manchester City and completing his hat trick. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Sergio Aguero celebrates with team mates after scoring the third goal for Manchester City and completing his hat trick. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his side’s first goal against Chelsea yesterday. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero in action with Chelsea's Bertrand Traore. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Miguel Delaney

It was a game where Manchester City might well have confirmed their place in next season's Champions League, but also one in which they perhaps properly announced their credentials to actually go and win the continental competition in this campaign.

Manuel Pellegrini's side simply swept Chelsea away to stay four points clear of Manchester United and temporarily leap to third, but also should have swept away any preconceptions Real Madrid might have had on Friday that they got the most forgiving semi-final draw possible. Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne didn't look in the mood to let anyone off here, as the Argentine scored a hat-trick and the Belgian repeatedly ripped his old club's midfield apart.

That brings a question as to why it took City so long to return to this level, but the answer likely lies with De Bruyne, as Manuel Pellegrini later pointed to the difference it makes to have all their best players back. The February 1 announcement that Pep Guardiola will be taking over was seen as a downward turning point in City's season, but it doesn't seem a coincidence that De Bruyne's injury came just two days before that. Since he has returned to the starting XI, the team's verve has returned too.

De Bruyne simply allows City to play at a pace that previously seemed beyond them. That breakneck speed on the break was the source of all three goals here. For the first on 33 minutes, De Bruyne burst down the right to release Aguero, whose shot was deflected past Thibaut Courtois from just outside the box. For the second just after half-time, the City top scorer beat Courtois with a much cleaner effort, but that after another deft touch at pace from De Bruyne had initiated another swift attack and totally embarrassed Cesc Fabregas.

It is not just the Spanish midfielder that De Bruyne embarrassed, but also Chelsea as a club.

The 24-year-old is a one-man indictment of the London club's transfer policy and the extreme Jose Mourinho short-termism that has left them in this mess. How the deposed champions - a status that does not fit with what is seen on the pitch - could have done with anything like De Bruyne's speed here.

It was like he was playing on a different surface, since Chelsea were so slow. There was no urgency about them at all, and incoming manager Antonio Conte cannot have been impressed with too much that was on show. Diego Costa didn't even care enough to get into any flash points.

Chelsea did get a red card, but that summed up the sense of drift around the team rather than any desperation or defiance. Fernandinho - of all players - was put through one on one after another swift City move, and Courtois took him down.

It was reminiscent of the goalkeeper's red card in the 2-2 draw against Swansea City that started this calamitous campaign for the London club. It could be said that's a neatly symmetrical way to bring it to an end, but their season has been over as a concern for a very long time.

City, however, might just be getting going. Aguero thrashed the ball past substitute Asmir Begovic to make it 3-0 and complete his hat-trick. Afterwards, Pellegrini admitted he found it "strange" that the Argentine had never been named player of the year, given the number of goals he gets and the "importance" to the team.

De Bruyne might be rising to that level for City.

Pellegrini's side don't have as much quality as Real and do have a lot of holes but the counter-attacking football that the Belgian allows them to play could cause real problems for the hugely open Spanish side. This was a day that City might have closed out the Champions League race, and De Bruyne and Aguero closed out a few arguments.

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