There are many defining moments in a season, and 2015/16 is no exception. For some, this year will be remembered for Jamie Vardy’s ridiculous form, the time when Leicester embarrassed us at the Etihad (yeah, I know, I’ll shut up), or Aston Villa’s impending ignominy. You can’t quite the put the finger on the exact moment where City’s season ebbed away, though maybe the wheels properly started to fall off when an ingénue Blues side conceded four second half goals against Chelsea in the FA Cup. Suddenly, City weren’t fighting on four fronts anymore, and the possibility of another trophyless season became more real.
Yet perhaps we should think of our defining moment occurring in another cup competition. I often bemoan City’s bad luck; stray balls never fall for us, back-passes never come our way, 50-50s end up going to the opposition. But when Raheem Sterling judiciously ignored the by-line back in January, dragging back for Kevin De Bruyne to belt his fifth League Cup goal of the season home, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was it. Our defining moment; the slice of luck that got us to Wembley, and let us enjoy/endure 120 minutes of biting our nails, before our boys finally brought the Cup home.
I think that assessment’s wrong, though. De Bruyne’s goal standing isn’t the stand-out moment of this season; it’s not even the stand out moment of that match. Personally, I think the perfectly-weighted De Bruyne cross which assisted Agüero’s tie-winner is of more quality than the Belgian’s own somewhat thudded goal, but that’s by the by. You know what I’m getting at; De Bruyne’s injury in the dying embers of the match left the Blues without this season’s superstar for two months; two months in which we only picked up 7 Premier League points out of a possible 21; two months in which we conceded 9 league goals, while only scoring an average of 1 goal per game. Of course, the De Bruyne interlude saw City secure the League Cup (eventually), and play some decent Champions League football in Kiev, but you can’t help but think – would we still be in the title race if the Belgian midfielder hadn’t got injured?
The fact that City have missed De Bruyne so much, and the fact that his return to the starting XI has been so impactful (he charmed all and sundry down in Bournemouth last Saturday, so much so that the Cherries faithful clapped him off the pitch), is rather revealing. The quality De Bruyne has shown this week proves that City have a player ripe and ready to build their team around in the next few seasons, yet it also illustrates just how much the old guard at the club have dropped off. David Silva, amongst others, has struggled severely with recurrent injury this year, and his usually superlative performances have suffered as a result. At times since January, City have seemingly found themselves in a dearth of creativity, unthinkable for a team with the likes of Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero amongst its ranks. No ifs, no buts; the Blues have missed De Bruyne’s invention.
In 2,458 minutes of football for City this season, the mercurial forward has netted 14 times in all competitions, plus made a further 14 assists (all stats courtesy of transfermarkt.co.uk). That’s an average of a goal or an assist every 87.79 minutes; in other words, every game. By contrast, Agüero is averaging a goal/assist every 1.13 games this season; David Silva has averaged an assist or goal every 1.81 matches. The figures are impressive for all three, especially when you factor in dips in form and the fact that in total, Silva, Agüero and De Bruyne have missed 131 days of injury between them. Yet the latter’s superior stats, in only his first season for the Blues (and practically his first in England) are impressive. They show a player beginning to justify his humongous price tag, and a player a good three to six years younger than the core of City’s squad. As the Blues have one of the oldest average squad ages in the league, this is important; we need more players about to hit the peak of their careers, rather than having already passed this stage.