Guardiola’s message to Liverpool as De Bruyne returns
Receiving a pass at shoulder height while facing his own goal, Kevin De Bruyne headed the ball backward and over an opponent just behind him before spinning to collect it and race forward to start yet another Manchester City attack.
That’s just one snippet from the FA Cup match between City and Rotherham on Sunday.
Or, as it could also be called, “The Kevin De Bruyne Show.”
It was only Rotherham, a struggling second-tier team. And a 7-0 rout is hardly the game to make big judgments.
But in a frustratingly injury-hit season, De Bruyne appears to be back and ready to give a lift to City’s bid for trophies on four fronts. Everything about De Bruyne’s display against Rotherham — his delivery from wide, his passing , his hard running and his skill — oozed class.
“He is going to give us extra,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “The creativity in the final third, the fight. He has the vision to see what other people cannot see.”
Guardiola also had a message for Liverpool, which leads City by four points in the English Premier League title race.
“We have done incredible in terms of results, but we have an opponent that has done better,” he added. “Fifty points is incredible, it is huge. But they are an opponent that has done better than us without him.
“Now he is back. He will be fresh in the mind and the legs.”
This was only De Bruyne’s fifth start in a season in which he has been struck by two knee injuries and, most recently, a muscular problem.
City’s midfield of De Bruyne, David Silva, and Fernandinho was the foundation of its record-setting year in the Premier League last season, but that trio has yet to play together once this season. Silva and Fernandinho have also been out with injuries in recent weeks.
No wonder Guardiola is so delighted to have De Bruyne back, and he protected the midfielder ahead of City’s packed upcoming schedule by taking him off after 67 minutes against Rotherham.
Next up is Burton Albion, a third-tier team managed by former England forward Nigel Clough, in the first leg of the English League Cup semifinals on Wednesday.
City is coming off an exhilarating 2-1 win over Liverpool, followed by its biggest win in Guardiola’s 2 1/2 years in charge. The team might also want to put the semifinal to bed early by running up a big score in the first leg, so Guardiola can rest players for the second leg in two weeks.
All the best, Burton.
TOTTENHAM VS. CHELSEA
The other semifinal matchup is between London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea, with the first leg at Tottenham’s temporary home of Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.
It offers the latest chance for Tottenham to pick up a first trophy since 2008, with many pundits feeling the club needs something tangible to validate its progress under Mauricio Pochettino since his arrival in 2014.
“Of course now, after nearly five years, the club is on another level than five years ago, but how we operate in four or five years didn’t change,” Pochettino said on Monday. “That is the point when sometimes people talk about winning titles. One thing is to reduce the gap with the top four, to be competitive, to create a team capable of fighting with the big sides.
“But if we want to win titles we need to operate in a different way.”
Similarly, Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri, who has also been lauded for his teams’ style of play throughout a managerial career spent mostly in Italy, has yet to win a piece of silverware. At Chelsea, more than most English clubs, trophies are what managers are judged on.
It was one of the few times there should have been a big smile on Alvaro Morata’s face.
He scored both of Chelsea’s goals in its 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Saturday, but still the Spain striker had the look of someone who would rather be anywhere else than a soccer field.
Upon getting substituted in the 75th minute, Morata looked to the ground as he trudged off and headed straight down the tunnel instead of to the bench.
Sarri has already spoken this season of Morata being “mentally fragile” and last week said he wanted a new striker in the January transfer window.
It seems only a matter of time before Morata, signed for a club-record fee of 58 million pounds ($75 million) in 2017, is put out of his misery at Chelsea.