Kevin De Bruyne collects Kyle Walker’s pass without breaking his stride and breezes past Caglar Soyuncu as if he is not there. He looks up once, twice, then fires a low cross to the far post for Gabriel Jesus to slide home. It’s Manchester City’s third goal of the night. It’s game over.
The assist capped another sensational performance from De Bruyne. Arsenal could not get close to him last weekend at the Emirates Stadium, where he scored two goals and set up another, and it was the same story for Leicester. “The best player in the Premier League,” said Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports. It’s becoming difficult to argue otherwise.
Stream live coverage of La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the EFL Championship with beIN SPORTS on KAYO. Get your 14 day free trial & start streaming instantly >
De Bruyne did not get on the scoresheet himself this time – that was left to Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan and Jesus – but nobody was more influential. De Bruyne created more chances than anyone else – nearly twice as many, in fact – and even made the most tackles. By the time he was serenaded off by the home fans in the closing stages, Leicester were overwhelmed.
Manchester City are still 11 points behind leaders Liverpool. The same old defensive frailties were exposed at times in the first half.
For De Bruyne, though, this was a continuation of an outstanding season. The injury problems of last year are firmly behind him.
He has only missed two Premier League games this season and it is no coincidence that City lost them both.
His assist on Saturday night, which he celebrated gleefully in front of the Manchester City fans behind Kasper Schmeichel’s goal, was his 10th of the campaign.
It is three more than any other player in the division.
De Bruyne also ranks top for chances created (69), chances created from open play (50) and even expected assists (7.4), which measures the quality of those chances.
There is nobody in the Premier League operating at his level right now, in other words, and that was clear from the start against Leicester.
As in the game against Arsenal, he was pushed into a more advanced role than usual and he relished it, striking the outside of the post with one early effort and prising open Leicester’s defence with a string of superb passes.
Leicester could not get a grip on him.
“The positions he takes up are so intelligent,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp as he watched De Bruyne popping up between the lines, causing problems between Leicester’s centre-backs and defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, and drifting to the right, where he dragged Ben Chilwell away from Mahrez.
Guardiola spoke of De Bruyne’s ability to execute passes other players cannot even see in the wake of the Arsenal game and there was evidence of that against Leicester too. In the 12th minute, he collected a Raheem Sterling pass and – despite facing in the opposite direction – had the awareness to immediately turn and pick out Mahrez in space on the right.
“We know when to find each other,” he shrugged in his post-match interview with Sky Sports.
It was typical of De Bruyne to play it all down, but that pass for Mahrez was just one of many moments of brilliance.
It was no surprise to hear more praise from Guardiola afterwards.
“Kevin De Bruyne is something spectacular,” he told Sky Sports. “He won the game for us and we expect to be competitors for the rest of the season.”
Guardiola talked up De Bruyne’s defensive workrate too and he wasn’t the only one.
“He’s one of those players where, if you’re a manager, it’s very difficult to be critical of him for anything,” said Carragher. “He’s got a great attitude, he’s great technically, and he’s got the work off the ball too.”
Leicester could not cope with City’s off-the-ball intensity and it was De Bruyne who led the way with their pressing.
His touch map showed just how much of the pitch he covered and it was hardly surprising to see him collapse to the turf in exhaustion before his substitution late in the game.
Catching Liverpool may prove beyond Manchester City this year – Jurgen Klopp’s side have a game in hand on top of their 11-point advantage at the top of the table – but there can be no doubts that, on an individual level, De Bruyne is already hitting new heights.
“If you go back two years, he looked almost nailed on to be the PFA Player of the Year until Mo Salah had an unbelievable second half of the season,” added Carragher. “But the way he’s playing now, he looks like the main man in the Premier League and one of the best players in the world.”
The statistics certainly back that up.
De Bruyne is creating chances at a higher rate than in any of his previous four years at the Etihad Stadium (per 90 minutes, 3.6 chances in 15/16, 3.2 in 16/17, 3.1 in 17/18, 3.3 in 18/19, and an incredible 4.4 this season)
And he’s already only two goals short of his highest total for an entire Premier League season.
With six goals and 10 assists so far, only Jamie Vardy, Leicester’s scorer on Saturday, has a higher combined total.
It’s little wonder Guardiola sees him as City’s matchwinner – even when he does not score the goals himself. Kevin De Bruyne is on a level of his own.
This story originally appeared on Sky Sports and is reproduced with permission.