• Europa League

De Bruyne is not the finished article yet...

Manchester City’s game plan was clear: to travel to the Bernabéu with a clean sheet. Manuel Pellegrini’s side took few risks in the Etihad and left the decoration, the magic, in the hands of David Silva and, after the Spaniard’s injury, above all with Kevin de Bruyne. It was one of those nights when the very global hierarchy was being challenged. A stand-out game from the Belgium international would have rubber-stamped the impression that he is on the verge of becoming one of that rare breed of truly special footballer. De Bruyne popped up all over the pitch, operating between the lines, playing triangular balls, the closest confidant of Jesús Navas, Sergio Agüero and Silva. He beat Pepe in two foot races and the second cost the Real defender a yellow card. However, playing too deep at times in the first half, De Bruyne relinquished possession three times, placing his midfield under pressure. It was a loose ball from the Belgian that led to Silva clattering into Gareth Bale, which earned him a caution and a game-ending injury.

Denied the chance to play a defining role, De Bruyne found himself affected by the timidity of his team, who could not find a way to unlock Real’s solid back four and he retreated with his teammates while Madrid grew, inevitably, into the game. His final ball was lacking, he failed to help his side in their attempt to throw off Madrid’s pressure and he didn’t defend with conviction, losing Lucas Vázquez in the move that ended up in Jesé’s header hitting the crossbar. The superstar was playing for the other side: Gareth Bale. De Bruyne is not the finished article yet, but will get a second chance to inspire City to take the leap forward that they were unable to achieve in the Etihad.