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Time to talk about Kevin? De Bruyne's early season form a concern for Man City

09:00 GMT 03/11/2021
Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 2021-22
The Belgium international is yet to create a Premier League goal this season after a summer that saw him pick up two unfortunate injuries

He may be Manchester City's assist king, but Kevin De Bruyne is now suddenly looking for a little bit of support himself.

Ten matches into the Premier League season, De Bruyne is yet to provide the final pass for a City league goal, leaving some to question the Belgium international's form.

It is, of course, still relatively early in the campaign, injuries have impacted his time on the pitch, and he is by no means the only one struggling in terms of creativity.

Team-mates Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling are yet to register an assist as of yet. Neither has Liverpool's Sadio Mane or Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku, and they have started twice as many matches this season as De Bruyne.

His mini-slump, though, is bound to draw attention after a career built around De Bruyne's ability to create opportunities and find passes that no other player is capable of.

Since making his City debut in 2015, De Bruyne has provided more assists and created more 'big chances' than anyone else in the Premier League.

In fact, no one even comes close. His total of 78 assists is 27 better than nearest rival Christian Eriksen, while a total of 120 'big chances' created is a long way clear of club-mate Riyad Mahrez on 80.

De Bruyne averaged an assist every 176 minutes for City heading into this season, but this term he has played more than twice that amount in his eight total appearances.

His raw statistics are unrecognisable, and so too was the sight of him being substituted in Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.

Trailing by a goal and struggling to unlock a well-organised and well-stocked defence, De Bruyne is normally the creative force that City rely on to provide a moment of magic and unlock the door.

Instead, he was taken off with half-an-hour of the game left, as Pep Guadiola turned to Mahrez and Sterling to try to rescue a victory.

The City boss was, though, unequivocal in his defence of De Bruyne when asked if he was concerned about his recent form. The 30-year-old has been the key figure behind much of Guardiola's success in his five years at the club, and was adamant that he will soon be back to his very best.

"You cannot imagine how good a player he is," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Club Brugge. "When you have long career like him, playing millions of games, you have highs and lows.

"I know how he’s doing, he's training and he knows he has our complete support playing minutes. Playing (at) a good level or bad level, all the players know we support them.

"I was a football player and I know that in an entire career you cannot perform incredibly well all the time. There are highs and lows, and he knows better than anyone else that he can do better.

"We’ll wait for him because we know what he’s doing every day to get to his best."

After suffering a fractured eye socket in City's Champions League final defeat against Chelsea, De Bruyne's start to the campaign was then restricted by an ankle injury picked up during the European Championship.

The midfielder needed two painkilling injections to play in Belgium's quarter-final defeat against Italy, and was subsequently not fit to start a Premier League match until late September.

"We forget that they are human beings," Guardiola added. "In the last eight or nine years they have a few weeks holiday every season, every year.

"Sometimes fatigue and many things can affect our players. All the players have to make their best performance every three days. If players have physical strength it’s easier, but the incredibly talented player in the final third who creates things every three days for 90 minutes? There is not a human being that can do it."

Looking away from the assists column, there are enough arguments to show that De Bruyne is still having a major impact on City's start to the season.

His first start of the campaign came in the outstanding victory away at leaders Chelsea, while his second saw him score a crucial equaliser in the important draw at Liverpool.

He also found the net against Burnley, while at Brighton he created four chances - more than any other player in the entire match - despite only being on the field for 13 minutes.

But the defeat against Palace, which came hot on the heels of City's Carabao Cup exit at the hands of West Ham where they also failed to score, has added to a growing concern that the team are struggling to create chances.

De Bruyne will therefore remain under the microscope until things change - something that Kyle Walker, who is the only player to score from a De Bruyne assist this season versus Brugge, is confident will happen.

"I wouldn’t say we have lacked in goals, because there have been a number of games where we have put in five. We put five past Arsenal, five past Brugge the other week," he said.

"It is kind of like, 'Okay, Manchester City don’t score, they need a striker', but when we score five all of a sudden we are doing quite well without a striker. We are a team, and this team is built on foundations from over the last four years.

"We lost Kun [Sergio Aguero] in the summer, who was the hero, the standout, the poster boy for this club, but apart from that I think everyone is on a level playing field where there are no egos. We all work hard for each other and run for each other. It is 11 players on the pitch, not one, two, three or four superstars that everyone else runs for."

De Bruyne, then, should be getting plenty of support if he does continue to slip down the assists chart.

Do not, though, expect this run to last much longer.