Manchester City went into Tuesday night’s clash with Leeds having somewhat underwhelmed in recent weeks, with a 2-1 defeat to RB Leipzig and a narrow 1-0 victory over Wolves to boast in their previous two fixtures.
And, by his own standards, Kevin De Bruyne had been going through a similarly disappointing run of individual form. With no goal involvements to show for himself in eight outings for Pep Guardiola’s side – and a bout of Covid either jammed in between – it’s safe to say that we were all asking ourselves where on earth the true KDB had got to.
Well, as City returned to their usual scintillating form in a 7-0 trouncing of Leeds on Tuesday, so did De Bruyne.
The midfielder got back to his enigmatic best as he conducted an overwhelming orchestra of quality at the heart of his side’s complete demolition and dismantling of Marcelo Bielsa’s men in the Premier League.
While the Belgian only had a hand in two of the seven goals – yeah, only – it was his pivotal, talismanic and totally governing performance in central midfield that made City sparkle.
Apart from his brace, he was integral to every facet of City’s devastating and unattainable dominance on the night.
The energy that he had seemingly lacked in recent showings was there to behold, with his incessant pressing from the front disrupting Leeds’ composure and pattern of play from the back and therefore constantly keeping his side on the front foot. His work rate extended to his elusive movement, pretty much all over the pitch.
Whether the ball was at the feet of left-back – and part-time twin – Oleksander Zinchenko or with Riyad Mahrez on the right flank, De Bruyne continuously offered himself as an option and was, of course, invariably in space.
His positional awareness allowed him to pick up possession in progressive areas from which to distribute play into the final third and into channels, eventually registering an impressive haul of four key passes. Meanwhile, his intelligence allowed him to always compliment the motion of City’s false nine so as to pull apart and disfigure the visitors’ formation in the middle of the park.
Indeed, the Leeds pairings in central defence – consisting of Diego Llorente and Luke Ayling – and central midfield – Adam Forshaw and Stuart Dallas (then Mateusz Klich) – looked absolutely hopeless for the whole 90 minutes with City’s creative threats running the show in the visitors’ half.
But that’s not a just summarisation – what made them look so dreadful was the unfathomable intelligence, awareness and fluidity of City’s front five, principally masterminded by De Bruyne.
If I hadn’t already sold you on his significance and return to his unbelievable best in this game, then let’s take a look at his brace. Two goals of the upmost quality, consisting of two stunning finishes.
The first came when he contradicted Phil Foden’s drop into a deep area with a dart in behind, eventually latching onto Rodri’s perfectly weighted through ball and clinically slotting the ball past Illan Meslier without a glimmer of hesitation.
The second was, well, an absolute rocket. Remember Rodri’s piledriver a few weeks back? Well this may be even better.
Collecting the ball from Ilkay Gundogan, City’s Belgian maestro shifted the ball onto his right before unleashing a ferociously venomous strike into the roof of the Leeds’ net from range. It was a jaw-dropping moment, completing a performance that earned an easily given 10/10 in 90min’s match ratings.
Of course, City’s and De Bruyne’s dominance over the game and their opposition increased as Bielsa’s men grew more and more despondent. But let’s take nothing away from a performance that really does signal De Bruyne’s return to his barnstorming best.