Later today, Kevin De Bruyne will complete his move to Manchester City from Wolfsburg and, in so doing, make Manuel Pellegrini’s side’s the most potent attacking force in the country.
Arguably, De Bruyne’s arrival will just extend an advantage that City already hold. A forward line which already boasts Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and - periodically - Yaya Toure is the envy of the Premier League, but the Belgian adds something that Pellegrini arguably hasn’t had up to this point.
City’s wealth has, in the years following the Abu Dhabi group’s takeover, allowed them to accumulate many attacking pieces but even in these latter years - these Mancini/Pellegrini seasons - there’s been something amiss in that area.
Aguero is phenomenal, Silva might just be the finest City player of all time and, in the coming years, Sterling may also rise to a similar level. In recent times, however, the side has never really had complementary attacking components on either side of the pitch.
City fans may disagree, but from a neutral’s perspective it’s always seemed as if there’s been a deficiency somewhere or a compromise which has restricted them in some way.
Sterling’s arrival cured the first problem: it allowed David Silva to move into a more central area and exert a greater influence on games.
De Bruyne’s transfer, terrifyingly, alleviates the need for Jesus Navas on the right hand side.
Navas is not a bad player, but he’s someone who arguably doesn’t quite belong at City’s level - at least as a week-to-week starter. He built a reputation for himself at Sevilla for direct wing play and the reasoning behind his original move to England was very sound. But he has proven to be very one-dimensional. He is quick and he does stretch the pitch both vertically and horizontally, but he is not typical of the sort of multi-purpose wide-forward that elite European teams have in that position.
De Bruyne, however, is very much that sort of player.
The English audience got a very brief look at him during his mis-fire at Chelsea, but since returning to Germany he has furthered his reputation as a very complete attacking player. He does everything: he is a long-range goal-threat, a creator, an accurate crosser, a ball-carrier and he also processes the game quickly enough to be consistently dangerous within the central and more congested areas in the final-third.
That last point is probably the more pertinent - and the most obvious advantage he holds over Navas. The Spaniard is quite an old-fashioned winger, in the away from the touchline he has very little instinct. He hesitates in attacking positions and he has never really been the all-rounder that City have needed on the right-hand side. Ideally, whoever plays in that position should be able to perform all the wide duties, but also be capable of combining with those inside and around him.
Obviously, the assumption here is that De Bruyne will be dropped straight into that role and be asked to play from the right. That’s not necessarily true and neither is it actually the point. While you would expect Silva to remain in the middle, De Bruyne and Sterling are both suited to playing on either flank and each have fairly similar skill-sets: both like to roam into advanced areas, both take opponents on, both have that delicate brand of technical ability that Navas doesn’t.
Sterling and De Bruyne will interchange and once the latter is tactically up-t0-date, you can expect to seem the switch positions every twenty minutes. Again, not to over-emphasise the point, that is a level of dexterity that Navas has never been able to provide.
Prior to this move being agreed, there have been those who said that - really - this is an exercise in gilding the lily and that City’s forward positions needed no further investment. Not true - maybe De Bruyne isn’t an absolute necessity, but he does quite obviously make this team significantly more dangerous. He represents diversification and - without meaning to wander into buzz-phrase territory - also the extension of Pellegrini’s highly-promising Silva/Sterling/Aguero axis across the entire pitch.
Or, in simpler terms, it’s a transfer which allows Manchester City to replace a player who can only do certain things with one who can do it all.
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