“At some moments, it’s not about the tactics,” Pep Guardiola said after Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday evening. “The tactics are important, of course, but the reason why in the first half in some moments we didn’t play good is for another reason. The players know that and we are going to improve on that.”
It was an honest assessment. City secured qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare - a fact that pleased the Catalan as he looks ahead to a busy Premier League schedule - but his side’s first-half performance was below the standard he expects.
City’s passing was laboured, too slow to trouble a Gladbach side low on confidence after a poor run of form. City recovered and equalised just before half time, before controlling the game in the second half and confirming their place in the knock-out phase of the competition. Job done – but the manager, understandably, was left somewhat unfulfilled by his side’s display.
However, one player who consistently produced moments of quality in the final third was Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian has a tendency to produce killer passes at just the right moment and he did so time and again against Gladbach.
It was his beautifully flighted corner that picked out Ilkay Gundogan on the edge of the area that saw the German take a touch and get a powerful shot away that brought a fine save from Yann Sommer. He later produced a beautiful scooped pass that set Raheem Sterling away who then fed Sergio Aguero to strike low and hard and call Sommer into action once more.
He then produced a first-time ball across the face of goal for David Silva to equalise after being released by Sterling, and in the second-half unleashed a 25-yard strike that forced Sommer to tip over. He was the stand-out player, whose decision-making continues to make him one of the most valuable attacking-midfielders in the game.
And his numbers underline his impact. He completed an impressive 92 percent of his passes during the game at Borussia-Park, created three chances for his team-mates (including his assist for Silva) and managed three shots of his own. No one in the City side matched that level of productivity.
All of which is indicative of his City career so far. In 59 games he has 19 goals and 21 assists, a spectacular record that underlines his ability in the final third. This season alone, he has seven assists in 11 games – the highest number in the Premier League. Put simply, he produces the goods more often than not.
On a night where things didn’t click for Guardiola’s side, the quality of De Bruyne helped the Blues through to the last 16.