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Talking Points: De Bruyne shines again

LINE UP: The team pose ahead of kick-off

LINE UP: The team pose ahead of kick-off

Manchester City secured a 1-1 against Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday and will now take their place in the last 16 of the Champions League for the fourth consecutive season. Here, Club journalist Rob Pollard takes a look back over the match.

1 City can get a result when not at their best

City’s Champions League credentials have been questioned in the past. Pep Guardiola himself has admitted this season that he needs to help build a winning mentality to compete with their more illustrious opponents.

The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus have decades of experience in Europe’s elite competition, whereas City are at a far more embryonic stage of their development.

What the draw with Gladbach proves, though, is that City are becoming much more Champions League savvy. By Guardiola’s own measure, they weren’t at their best in Germany - and there were periods in the first half where Gladbach had them on the run – but they recovered, found an equaliser and then controlled the match and secured the point they needed to qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare.

It’s a game City may have contrived to lose in the past. Clear progress is being made.

 

World-class De Bruyne

In a game that lacked quality for long periods, Kevin De Bruyne shone brightly.

The Belgian, 25, laid on David Silva’s crucial equaliser and produced a number of other key passes, creating three chances and delivering a series of telling crosses into the box. Overall, his pass completion rate stood at an impressive 92 percent at full-time.

It’s a familiar story. In the Premier League alone this season, De Bruyne has registered two goals and seven assists in just 11 games. In total, he’s scored 19 and assisted 21 in 59 games for City. It's a remarkable record. 

Even when not at his best, De Bruyne has a knack of conjuring moments of brilliance that unlock a defence. That’s the sign of a world-class player.

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3 Tactical flexibility

It’s been fascinating watching Guardiola stamp his authority on this City side. There’s still plenty of work to do before City reach the level the Catalan expects, and the two most recent games are testament to that, but in the space of four-and-a-half months there has already been significant improvements.

Most notably, City are becoming tactically more advanced. Against Gladbach on Wednesday, they shifted shape numerous times during the game, with players utilised in various roles as Guardiola searched for control of the game.

Raheem Sterling played on both flanks, a back four and back three were deployed, Silva and De Bruyne flitted between positions both deep and high, Fernandinho played as a midfielder and defender depending on whether City had possession, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Jesus Navas had a stint at full-back.

Eventually they asserted their authority and got the result they needed. The days of City being too rigid tactically are over. They are now a fluid, astute setup, with players comfortable in a variety of positions.

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Premier League focus

By qualifying for the knock-out phase of the competition with a game to spare City can now focus on their Premier League campaign before the last-16 phase gets underway in mid-February.

It’s a huge bonus given City’s packed fixture schedule. Between now and January 2, City will play eight Premier League games, including matches against Chelsea, Leicester, Arsenal and Liverpool. 

Expect a much-changed line-up for the final Group C game against Celtic in a fortnight’s time. 

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