Manchester: Like a dad who had been letting his kid win a few games in the garden, Kevin De Bruyne decided it was time to get serious and put the youngster in his place on Wednesday as he led Manchester City’s schooling of Arsenal with a sumptuous performance. The classy midfielder scored twice and set up another as City’s 4-1 win made the Premier League standings look a nonsense and showed the pretenders to their throne just how far they still have to go even if they do still sit top of the league by two points, having played two more games.
Arsenal came into the match stuttering from three draws while City, like all the great teams, were girding their loins for the last big push when the trophies are decided.
And it was the Belgian midfielder who set the tone and then maintained it as City really should have reached halftime four or five up instead of 2-0.
Pinpoint free kick
His first goal after seven minutes was full of intent as he collected a neat ball from Erling Haaland and immediately drove through a retreating Arsenal defence then deliciously curled a low show just inside the post.
He then delivered a pinpoint free kick for John Stones to head the second while his own second was one of his trademark. How did he do that specials having initially won the ball back in the centre circle?
Looking as if he was taking a touch of control, with virtually no backlift, he poked the ball between defender Rob Holding’s legs to catch goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale cold after Haaland again turned provider in a combination that Arsenal had no answer to.
As is becoming the norm, De Bruyne was withdrawn by manager Pep Guardiola, as ever, looking disgruntled at the decision, as Holden pulled one back for the visitors before Haaland ensured City finished on a high.
Asked about De Bruyne’s performance, coach Pep Guardiola said: “Always I push him, I have the feeling that he can do better, but in this shape when he can move behind, he has that little bit more freedom.
“When we stay close to him and with long balls, second balls and with Erling up front, he’s so dangerous… he’s a master. Erling’s connection with Kevin is extraordinary and we tried today to use it as much as possible.”
De Bruyne revelled in that freedom and City looked much more of a goal threat than so often when they patiently probe up and down the flanks trying to manoeuvre themselves into dangerous positions.
Talking of treble
“When they play man to man, we had to go a little bit longer,” the Belgian said. “They are a class team and very hard to play against. We had to be at our best today and I think we were.”
While pundits and fans are already awarding City the title and talking of a treble, De Bruyne was quick to remind them that there is a long way to go.
“We know what people will say, but it is still seven games,” he said. “I know we have games in hand but we are still behind them… we will not give in until it cannot mathematically be done. Our schedule is hectic and there is a lot of things going on.”