It was yet another big night for Manchester City as they kept up their pressure at the top of the table and swatted away one of English football’s most effective sides as though they were a comfortable FA Cup Third Round opponent.
It may not have been quite that easy for City’s seemingly all-conquering side, but they certainly are making it look that way.
One player in particular is standing out, but the scale of Kevin de Bruyne’s contribution to Pep Guardiola’s City team is only really revealed when you break it down into stats. And it was especially visible against Spurs.
His goal perhaps stands out, as do his threaded key passes – six of them in all against Tottenham, who have had the best defensive record in the league for two seasons in a row – but that’s not all he does.
When you break it down, you can see what he does, though. His 79 touches was more than any other player on the pitch, whilst only Leroy Sane completed more dribbles. His 47 completed passes, however, wasn’t really all that special, nor was his pass accuracy of just 72% – lower than Ederson and Hugo Lloris.
But that’s because De Bruyne is doing more than just spray the ball around. There is, perhaps, a misconception that Guardiola sides just pass the ball around as a matter of principle, beating the opposition into submission by passes for passing’s sake. This City side don’t: they are direct, even if they are intricate. De Bruyne takes players on, he takes shots, and he plays risky passes.
And yet, that’s only half the story. Going the other way, the Belgian made a sensational six tackles, contributing to his team when out of possession just as much as when they did have the ball. No player on the pitch came close to his six tackles, and De Bruyne ended the game with at least double the tally of every other player on the pitch apart from Fernandinho, who made four.
Sometimes those sorts of players, who contribute at both ends of the pitch and who are vital to their team in a way that goes beyond goals and assists, don’t get the credit they deserve. De Bruyne is special because he stands out even whilst being exactly that sort of player.
But when you break it down into stats – especially in such a big, top-six, game – you see exactly what the Belgian means to his team. They were simply mind-blowing, and his contribution is no small part of his side’s record-breaking performances this season. But they also show that no matter how much credit we give him for his side’s historic form, it will never be enough. He’s contributed in almost every way – and that’s what’s so special.