After the draw in the first leg at RB Leipzig, the star ensemble from Manchester City has to worry about the Champions League quarter-finals. Kevin De Bruyne will be the man who matters.
The task for RB Leipzig could hardly have been harder on paper in the round of 16 of the Champions League. With Manchester City, the Bundesliga side were drawn as the permanent top favorites in this competition, but the first leg, which ended 1-1, showed that Pep Guardiola’s team also has weaknesses. Especially when a player isn’t there.
In the first leg, Kevin De Bruyne was missing the man who gives a star-studded team that certain something. For all the class that the “Citizens” possess, the Belgian is the one who initiates the crucial moments. And there were very few of them in Leipzig in the absence of the 31-year-old.
The best provider of templates in Europe – until the World Cup crack
In the second leg on Tuesday (March 14, 2023, 9 p.m., live in the Sportschau audio stream), De Bruyne will be back in the starting XI. His first task: to stage Erling Haaland again. The exceptional striker, who has scored 34 goals in 35 competitive games since joining in the summer, is dependent on the passes from his backers – and De Bruyne is the man who understands this craft best.
With 18 assists in the past 12 months, he is the top assist provider in Europe’s top leagues. But the majority of these successful passes happened before the World Cup, where De Bruyne experienced a major disappointment with Belgium (out in the group stage) – and apparently also lost his form.
Before the tournament he was directly involved in 18 goals (three goals, 13 assists) in 18 games at ManCity in the league and Champions League, after the World Cup it was only four points (one goal, three assists) in eleven league games.
Noble helper for Haaland
De Bruyne recently emphasized that, despite these numbers, “in order” to play. Based on his performances over the past few years, that’s not what is satisfactory from a world-class player. “People expect me to score every game and set up a goal every game. Maybe there have been fewer assists lately, but I don’t think I’ve created less and played pretty well“said De Bruyne, who also admitted: “It’s good, but not the best I’ve ever played.“
Manchester needs the best De Bruyne against Leipzig again. It has been too obvious in the past few weeks how much the team is suffering from the creative crisis or the absence of the star as in the first leg – especially center forward Haaland, who has little connection to the game without scoring chances.
“This is our fault. Erling has been playing well all season, it’s all up to us and we need to look for him more“said Guardiola last. “That’s the most difficult position because you play alone against two central defenders – and with Erling there are often even more.“
Manchester City’s Erling Haaland warms up ahead of the Champions League round of 16 match.
Huge longing for the CL title
De Bruyne is the noble helper for Haaland. The interface between the passing machines in the more defensive positions and the man with an eye for situations that only exceptional players like him recognize at this moment. That makes De Bruyne the heart of the Manchester City game. If it hits again in the best shape, the chances for Leipzig to advance are manageable. “I am aware of the danger they have. The level of energy, quality and intensity is high“said De Bruyne on RB.
It will be a major hurdle for City to climb for the long-awaited premier class title. De Bruyne has never won the trophy and his manager is set to finally bring her to Manchester in her seventh year at the club. “The day I got here, I was asked if I was going to win this title“said Guardiola.
So far he has had to answer this question with “No”. Since 2016, he and the club have been knocked out once in the round of 16, three times in the round of eight, once in the semi-finals and a defeat in the 2021 final against Chelsea. De Bruyne dived there too – and Man City remained without a goal.