Hardly a week goes by, it seems, without Kevin De Bruyne demonstrating his importance to Manchester City.
Here, on his 100th appearance for the club, De Bruyne was a class apart in a stunning demolition of poor Stoke, helping to set up four goals.
Is there a better player in the Premier League right now? Surely no-one can match De Bruyne in terms of his all-around contribution to the team.
Kevin De Bruyne was the catalyst as Manchester City went about demolishing Stoke
In the last 18 games Premier League games, he has scored three – including that stunning winner at Chelsea a fortnight ago – and made 14 assists. It’s a remarkable record and one that does not take into account all of the facts.
For instance, the cold statistics will say that Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling scored City’s first two goals here at the Etihad. They will tell you that the assists were provided by Kyle Walker and Leroy Sane.
What the facts will not convey, however, is the masterful touches applied to both moves by De Bruyne.
They were every bit as important as his two assists later in proceedings that finally took this game away from Stoke after they had fought back from three goals down to trail 3-2.
The Belgian was making his 100th appearance in the sky blue of City in the clash
The first was beautiful in its simplicity. Walker intercepted a stray pass and played the ball straight to De Bruyne before breaking forward. The Belgian set off down the right and looked for all the world as if he would swing a cross into the box.
Stoke’s defence certainly thought so and did not track Walker’s run. De Bruyne was well aware of it, though, and weighted a perfect pass into the path of his teammate. It gave Walker time and space to pick out Gabriel Jesus’s run to the near post, and he made no mistake from close range.
The second, just two minutes later, was pure genius. Stoke were still clearing their heads when Sane played the ball back to De Bruyne on the edge of the box. Again, the Potters expected him to play a different pass, and De Bruyne’s glance to his right suggested he would do just that.
Instead, he slipped the ball in the other direction, back to Sane who was now unmarked. It had taken two Stoke defenders completely out of the game and, once again, gave City the time they needed to apply the killer blow. Sane squared a pass to Sterling who had a simple finish.
Despite Pep Guardiola’s comments about Tottenham being the ‘Harry Kane team’, that caused so much consternation for Mauricio Pochettino, you cannot accuse City of relying too heavily on one man. There are goals running throughout Guardiola’s team and that was evident when Sane and Sterling combined to open up Stoke and create the third goal for David Silva.
De Bruyne was the man picking out his team-mates and showed his value to his side
But De Bruyne was the man of the hour and deserved his standing ovation when he was replaced by Ilkay Gundogan in the 66th minute after setting up the fourth and six goals.
There was a similarity between them in the sense that both owed much to De Bruyne’s hunger and determination to win the ball in the first place.
In the 56th minute, he stole in to take the ball off Stoke substitute Bruno Martins Indi who had been sent on at half-time to try and shore things up. De Bruyne hardly looked up, knowing that Gabriel Jesus would be making a run to the far post. The cross was delivered instantly and with enough pace to find the Brazilian who provided an emphatic finish to claim his second goal.
De Bruyne still wasn’t finished, even after Fernandinho’s thunderbolt had made it five. The former Chelsea man made another timely interception in midfield before swinging an exquisite pass behind the Stoke defence for Sane to score his second.
Bernardo Silva claimed the seventh but the hard work had been done by then. Guardiola knows how important his No.17 will be in the Champions League clash with Napoli here on Tuesday, and wisely decided to give him a rest. It was certainly well earned.