De Bruyne pushing for full fitness as Man City embark on crucial run

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The Belgian playmaker has only featured four times in the Premier League this season as the Carabao Cup champions prepare to defend their title

Manchester City have coped fine in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne during his injury-interrupted start to the season but the Belgian is ready for a full comeback as Pep Guardiola plots success in all four competitons.

City are neck and neck with Liverpool at the top of the Premier League and they have done it largely without De Bruyne, who succumbed to his second injury of the season on November 1 during a Carabao Cup game against Fulham.

Guardiola has also been without key performers such as Benjamin Mendy, John Stones, Fernandinho, David Silva and Sergio Aguero at various points during the season and De Bruyne credits the investments made in the transfer market as being the chief reason that City can stay ahead of the chasing pack.

"That's why you invest in the team and put all that money in to have a full squad,” he said. “The investment is the beginning. They did really smartly by buying young players who can get better.

“We've a squad of 21 or 22 players and it doesn't matter who plays - they have regular games in the team.

“We are fully there for the four trophies. You know you are going to get injuries, but you hope to keep them as few as possible. If you want to try to win the lot, you need players to do that."

The likes of Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez have stood up when required for Guardiola this season, scarcely missing a beat while De Bruyne was on the sidelines, first with a training ground injury suffered in August.  

"They did brilliantly without me,” he said. “But I'm sure they'll be happy that I'm back.

“It's just how it is. They have had to manage with the players who are there and unfortunately sometimes players are out. The guys did brilliantly and now I'll try to be at my top level to help them out.”

Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 2018-19

De Bruyne played around 20 minutes in the weekend victory over Everton, only his fourth Premier League appearance of the season, but he’s putting no time limit on getting back to his best.

"I just need some game time,” he said. “I came in and I just ran for 20 minutes. I'm not looking to play a good game, just run without stopping. That gives me a good boost physically and lets me get my lungs open for the next game.

“We'll see, it's difficult to say, I’ve not been out that amount of time before. I'll work hard to get back as soon as possible but I don't put pressure on myself."

Guardiola claimed that De Bruyne was exhausted after his strenuous season last time out as well as playing the World Cup, but the playmaker believes that there is simply no alternative with the games coming thick and fast.

“I'm not sure I agree with that,” he said of the manager’s exhaustion assessment. “I played the most of anyone last year - in the whole world. And I played the World Cup without a problem.

“I think the most important thing is having a summer break - if you have that you can feel OK but there is always a time in someone's career where you feel a bit less.

“But I felt all right, it was just a shame that when I came back after one week I was out for two-and-a-half months.

“I was happy to come back and worked really hard but after three games it happened again. So I think it's part of your career and in the end it's just the way it is."

With Premier League, Champions League, domestic cups and internationals to contend with, there is simply no time in the calendar for players like De Bruyne to put their feet up.

David Silva Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 2017-18

"No - it was not possible,” he said when asked if he could have taken a longer break after Belgium's run to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

“I wasn't exhausted. I think in general people need a good summer break, sometimes we play for 11-and-a-half months at a time and there is not enough time to rest. I had a rest of about three weeks - after 12 months of playing. Is that short? Probably, yes.

“But I felt OK to come back. It's not a lot to say, I came back and trained and was out after one week – it’s just the way it goes.

"There's nothing I can do - it was two accidents. I'm happy with my body because I know I have no problems with muscles. They were both just accidents, the second time also. I felt my knee and it pops, so you just work hard and try to be back as soon as possible."

City are right in the middle of a crunch run of fixtures with Leicester City in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday as well as a packed festive Premier League programme. De Bruyne could not have timed his return any better.

“There's always many games from September onwards - unless you get out of some cups,” he said. “It's two games a week. that doesn't really change. It's a busy period because everyone plays. Then, after Christmas, it's just people who are playing Europe. At the moment it's just busy for everyone."

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Although City are setting a record-breaking pace, De Bruyne insists they have been playing no different in his absence and instead credits Liverpool and Tottenham for keeping up the pressure this season.

"It's just the same, we do what we always do,” he said. “We've won the most of the games like we did last year and we are there with the top teams.

“The others have been better than last year so that's why it's closer."

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