Kevin de Bruyne is not a statty player. And the fact that he won the Premier League’s man of the match award in Manchester City’s 5-0 win over Liverpool probably proves it.
Whilst the Belgian international certainly deserved the accolade, it wasn’t for his stats, but for his contribution to the game. Football matches aren’t played on paper. And yet, looking at the stats after marvelling at De Bruyne’s performance is a useful exercise in tempering the idea that stats are all important. Sometimes, the nature of the game makes the stats redundant.
In a Pep Guardiola central midfield berth, you would expect De Bruyne to run the game. Instead, he played almost half the passes of David Silva, and a full 30 fewer than his other central midfield partner, Fernandinho. Indeed, the Belgian’s pass accuracy (at 79%) was surprisingly low for a Guardiola player in a second half against ten men. Especially when three players in City’s side managed 100% pass accuracy and the team as a whole had a success rate of 91%.
But De Bruyne was attempting through balls and crosses rather than spreading the play. That means his passes were riskier than those of his teammates, and his three key passes (only Sergio Aguero could match that on Saturday afternoon at the Etihad) and his two assists show his worth to the team.
Guardiola has created a team in which there are other players to play the short passes and bring the opposition out of position, he has other players to attempt dribbles or run in behind. And that allows De Bruyne the freedom to play the harder pass and create the chances.
His job clearly isn’t to be City’s most polished player when it comes to pass accuracy or any other stat. His job is to create chances. And although the sending off of Sadio Mane clearly helped City’s cause, De Bruyne played an instrumental role in a heavy win over top six rivals where his side were ruthless in attack. That’s important as City were guilty of missing gilt-edged chances on a regular basis last season.
This time around, with De Bruyne proving that his role in the team is to provide the cutting edge which allows Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane to get chances laid on a plate, City could start to look incredibly dangerous for the rest of the title contenders.