Kevin De Bruyne had to play much deeper than usual in the Carabao Cup second leg win at Burton Albion
Everyone knows that Pep Guardiola loves tinkering around with his team selection every once in a while, and Manchester City‘s 9-0 lead over Burton Albion allowed him to do just that. After naming his squad, the gaffer revealed that one player might play out of position, as he was capable of doing so. “I know them quite well, I know where they can play,” he began. “Most of them are going to play in their positions, maybe one — but almost everyone in his position.”
And that one player turned out to be De Bruyne, as he turned up in a deeper position, almost the one Fernandinho plays in, with Phil Foden and Fabian Delph
The playmaker did not publicly comment on that switch, but when given license to roam, he responded with a match-winning display and superb goal as the Red Devils sank Brazil 2-1 in the quarterfinals. He will not complain again after playing the role at the Pirelli Stadium, but many think he would make a wonderful deep-lying playmaker when he nears the end of his career. And De Bruyne showed that facet with a superb pass to open up the Burton defence, playing in Riyad Mahrez to lay the only goal on a plate for Sergio Aguero.
It may just have been that Guardiola wanted to see how De Bruyne would perform in the Fernandinho role — with the Brazilian being the Spanish boss’ only true defensive midfielder — so that he has more options for that role. When asked about it, Guardiola opined that the player was still not fully match sharp and that playing deeper would keep him more involved.
“I thought maybe Burton play 4-1-4-1 and I want to see him with a lot of touches,” said the manager. “He needs to be in contact with the ball, especially the commitment. He was in a position to be aggressive, his training and his attitude, he was a long time injured and it’s not one or two days fit, he needs the minutes, he played 90 minutes and now 65 or 70. We need him, and step by step he’s coming back.”
De Bruyne may be best suited to being the dynamic midfield star who is both combative and dogged without the ball and truly devastating with it, but he has the vision and match awareness to be a deep-lying playmaker sometime later on, perhaps when age catches on and his legs do not allow him to be the same driving force as during his heyday.