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Manchester United and Liverpool fans should not be too excited by Man City’s injury blow

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The news that Kevin De Bruyne will be out for up to six weeks was greeted with delight by some Liverpool and Manchester United fans.

Social media is an unholy place at the best of times, but the glee with which some rival supporters reacted to the news was unseemly to say the least. Some even trumpeted it as further evidence that this is finally going to be their year.

But the recent history of Manchester City indicates that not only is the joy which De Bruyne’s misfortune evoked unpleasant, it is also misplaced.

Stats don’t necessarily lie, but they can bend the truth when taken out of context, and the fact that De Bruyne will miss some important games, not least the clash with Liverpool in a fortnight, is undoubtedly a blow to the Blues.

But this season, City are undefeated without De Bruyne, having won seven and drawn two of the nine games in which the brilliant Belgian has not played – a win percentage of 78 per cent. With him in the team, the win percentage drops to 71 per cent.

Of course, the fact that he was rested for a Carabao Cup tie against Bournemouth and Champions League dead rubbers against Olympiacos and Marseille tempers those stats.

Perhaps a more suitable comparison is from 2018-19 when De Bruyne damaged his knee ligaments in training in the first week of the season and after ten weeks out almost instantly suffered a setback in a Carabao Cup win over Fulham, a needless injury which cost him another seven weeks.

His return was timely – after playing in the 2-1 defeat at Newcastle which seemed to have handed the title to Liverpool on a plate, he played in eight of the next ten league games as the Blues strung together a winning streak which saw City edge back to top spot.

When he pulled up again, with a muscle injury in a tight 1-0 win over Tottenham, and with four league games to go, the Scousers were rubbing their hands together.


Gallery: Our Liverpool-Man United combined XI (Read Sport)

By then, they should have known better, as Bernardo Silva had already emerged from De Bruyne’s shadow and driven City onwards.

Wins over United, Burnley, Leicester and Brighton secured the title in a breathless sprint finish.

That season, City won 82 per cent of the games in which De Bruyne played, winning 18 out of 22. But their win ratio was identical without him, with 32 wins out of 36.

Those numbers, and Bernardo’s performances, dispelled the myth that City relied on De Bruyne a little too much for assists and the odd crucial goal.

The Portugal international had failed to nail down a place in the starting line-up in his debut season, squeezed by De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane – 20 of his 35 Premier League appearances came off the subs’ bench.

But, as often happens, the absence of a stellar performer can bring the best out of another.

City saw it when Fernandinho was transformed from providing the legs for Yaya Toure to being a midfield general in his own right.

De Bruyne’s long-term absence shone the spotlight on Bernardo, and he responded with a series of performances that combined his usual manic work-rate with sublime touch, intelligent creativity and fierce competitiveness.

After that title was secured, Bernardo took a step backwards as De Bruyne returned superbly and Riyad Mahrez moved up two gears last season, when the normally bubbly Portuguese was also troubled by an FA charge relating to a tweet deemed racist.

Pep Guardiola said this week that he was also partly to blame for the slump in the 26-year-old’s form, saying he did not give him enough playing time.

This season, there have been signs of the 2018-19 Bernardo returning, and with De Bruyne out, the parallel with that campaign will not have escaped his notice – this is a big chance to drive City on again.

The Blues also had David Silva in fine form in 2018-19, of course, but the emergence of Phil Foden as a player who affects results as well as being highly watchable, has redressed that balance.

The stats show that rival fans’ enthusiasm for De Bruyne’s unhappy news may just be premature. The stats say so, and the history of the last two and a half years confirms it.

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