Pep Guardiola is relishing the competition for places at Manchester City that means “unique” Kevin De Bruyne may no longer be an automatic selection.
De Bruyne made his return from a month-long hamstring injury lay-off as a late substitute against Everton last week and started the 1-0 win against Arsenal four days later.
However, the reigning PFA Players’ Player of the Year was an unused substitute for City’s trip Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek, despite Guardiola confirming the playmaker was fully fit.
City won that Champions League last-16 first leg 2-0 through a Bernardo Silva header and Gabriel Jesus’ strike, having also won all five-top-flight games De Bruyne missed during his time on the sidelines, scoring 15 times and conceding just once.
And with Bernardo continuing to excel in City’s midfield three alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, Guardiola has reiterated De Bruyne is no longer indispensable.
“They are quite similar but Kevin gives us something Bernardo doesn’t give and vice versa,” Guardiola said. “Every player has his own skills but they do it for the benefit of the team. That’s why they are so stable.
“It’s good for us, this competition between themselves. It was the same for [Kyle] Walker in the last game – because he knows Joao [Cancelo] is playing so good. It’s the only way to maintain consistency.
The boss on @DeBruyneKev…
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“Every three days there’s a game and there’s a competition among them. Our transitions with Kevin are much better – he is unique in the world. Without Kevin maybe we are more calm and have more time to pause, but it’s not that we want one way or the other, it’s the quality of the players we have.”
De Bruyne’s 10 assists in the Premier League this term are bettered only by Harry Kane’s 11, the Tottenham striker having played three games more, while only Mason Mount (62), Bruno Fernandes (71) and Jack Grealish (75) can better his 58 chances created.
Bernardo may lag some way behind De Bruyne in both categories – assisting three goals and laying on 16 opportunities for team-mates – but Guardiola believes the Portuguese brings other qualities to the side.
City dominated possession away to Gladbach with 61 per cent of the ball and the manager said: “Sometimes you need more passes and Bernardo has that quality when he receives the ball.
“With opponents behind him, he can make two or four touches then give it. Kevin is a different player, more of a free mind, more explosion, and we need it. He sees something that other ones cannot see and he provides passes others can’t see. Sometimes I need him to be more behind, Bernardo up front.
“It depends on the opponent. Sometimes the striker jumps, it depends on our movement, it depends on every game.”
City are looking to make it 20 wins in a row in all competitions when they take on West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, a run that includes 13 successive victories in the top flight. Only on five previous occasions has a side won 14 or more on the spin.
Guardiola jokingly said earlier this week that money was the most important factor behind his side’s incredible winning streak, which has them on course for a clean sweep of silverware.