Brilliant de Bruyne brush strokes made sense of it all

Manchester City have earned the ultimate collective prize for a remarkable season and their players will lift the Premier League trophy on Sunday when they face Swansea City at the Etihad.

Picture courtesy of premierleague.com

But even in a side which thrives on a team ethic instilled by Pep Guardiola, there have been individual heroes who have pushed them to glory.

So who are the champions who have made the champions? Who deserves the individual recognition that goes with team success?

Here is a rundown of the players who have contributed most to a record-breaking season in the blue half of Manchester.

Player of the Year: Kevin De Bruyne

The Belgian’s stats on their own would be enough to make him a contender for any player of the year title — seven goals, 15 assists and 2,401 passes tell a story of his Premier League domination and you can add in a further four goals in cup competitions. But relying on numbers to assess the elegant midfielder’s contribution to Manchester City would be like counting brushstrokes to rank the Dutch masters.

The truth is De Bruyne does cover ground, does work hard and does provide end product to add to his skill on the ball; but sometimes, too, he paints the most beautiful pictures with such a soft brush, such a light touch, that no percentage figure can do justice to what he is truly worth.

Goals, drama and passion light up English football often enough these days but the moments when you feel your skin tingle and are lost, briefly, in wonderment at the sheer beauty of a pass, a clever touch or an effortless through ball that nobody but a genius could even have visualised — these are the punctuation marks in a season that truly make sense of it all. De Bruyne provided those moments time and time again in 2017-18.

Other players deserve a mention — David Silva, Leroy Sane, Ederson, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, and Fernandinho included — but De Bruyne was just that one step above them all. He saw passes that no one else saw and, despite his slight frame, dominated games in the toughest league in world football. Just outstanding.

Young player of the Year: Leroy Sane

It’s easy to forget that Sane is still only 22 because his contribution to City’s season has been remarkable and he has shown a power, consistency and maturity of decision-making way beyond his years.

In full flow, and on his left foot, the German international at times looked almost unstoppable and his dribbling, at full pace and with remarkable athleticism, is something the Premier League hasn’t seen since Ryan Giggs was at his peak.

Sane has scored 13 goals in all competitions so far and his directness wonderfully complements the more laconic skills of De Bruyne, who has found him with effortless passes time and time again. His goals against Arsenal and Everton will live long in the memory but so many of his finishes were spectacular and cleanly hit, the kind that provide an extra satisfaction when they hit the back of the net. All this so young; you have to wonder how good could this player be when he reaches his prime in four or five years?

Most improved player: Raheem Sterling

If ever an advert was needed for the coaching skills of Pep Guardiola then Raheem Sterling would make a perfect case study.

Lauded as the future of English football ever since breaking into the Liverpool team as a youngster, Sterling nevertheless began the season at a crossroads in his career. In the eyes of many critics, he had failed to fulfil his remarkable potential despite a big money move to the Etihad; his finishing, and in particular his shooting, was poor, his decision making questionable and his character in doubt. He was booed not only at Anfield, as you might expect, but also by England fans frustrated at his lack of contribution.

But what a difference a season under Pep can make. Still aged only 23 he has contributed 22 goals in all competitions in a remarkable season in which he has shown ability to play more central and changed public opinion in the space of 10 months. There are still times when Sterling misses good chances but these days his confidence never drops, he keeps making runs and remains determined to influence a game.

His dribbling skills have never been in doubt but these days he uses them constructively and his recent performances for England have been equally impressive. For a player who seemed incapable of putting his foot through a football he is now capable of scoring spectacular goals, too, and his positional play is vastly improved.

When you consider there were once reports that City could sell him to Arsenal in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, he has made excellent progress. The chances of him leaving the Etihad now are close to zero.

Clubman of the Year: Vincent Kompany

The captain deserves every bit of praise heading his way this week after winning his third title in what has become a glittering and influential career at the Etihad.

Kompany’s down-to-earth, honest nature, his leadership qualities, and calm maturity are a key ingredient of City’s success — and the way he has come back from constant injury set-backs is an example to many, too.

Time and time again the Belgian has been written off but his performances in the final third of the season have been exemplary, while his contribution in the dressing room is perhaps even more significant.

He has only played 20 games, 15 of them in the Premier League, but the centre-half remains City’s talisman and can take great pride in the improved performance of his defence.

His reaction to winning the title, talking immediately about the challenge of winning it again next season, was praised by pundits and senior professionals and there is a growing feeling that Kompany has become Guardiola’s right-hand man on the pitch.

Watching television footage of his family celebrating the club’s title win confirmed just how much he has become part of Manchester life, part of City history, a symbol of what the club is trying to achieve.

Best buy of the season: Ederson

Who would have thought Man City, with their attacking philosophy, would reach this stage of the season with 15 clean sheets in the Premier League; but the signing of Ederson Moraes from Benfica for almost €40m was a masterstroke.

In fact, City have conceded fewer goals than any other club in the top flight in 2017-18 — just 25 — and you cannot overestimate the influence of their new number one.

Last season, with Claudio Bravo regularly castigated for his nervous distribution and propensity to wilt under pressure, City looked defensively unstable. Every opponent knew it was their Achilles heel and was hell-bent on exploiting it.

Ederson’s arrival changed all that. His excellent distribution, calm persona and confidence under pressure have not only helped City’s defensive statistics but also set up many of their most incisive attacks. He has been one of their players of the season — and at just 24 he is only going to get better. He could be City’s goalkeeper for another decade.

Goal of the season: Leroy Sane v Arsenal, March 2018

There are so many to choose from, 93 in the Premier League alone (which is 15 more than nearest rivals Liverpool), but a goal at the Emirates in March sums up best the team ethic and footballing philosophy which has made City worthy champions.

Yes, there have been more ‘spectacular’ strikes, goals from long distance, goals struck with power, goals finished with finesse; but this one had it all.

City were already 2-0 up in a dominant performance when Kyle Walker took a free-kick, a long way out on the touchline, and set up a flowing move which involved six players and took 26 seconds before the ball landed in Arsenal’s net.

Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero all touched the ball in a precise 15-pass move which carefully, creatively moved Arsenal’s defence around the pitch until the time was right.

It was Aguero who changed the pace, haring away from Laurent Koscielny on the half-time line and starting off a rapid switch of passes between De Bruyne, out to Walker wide — and then a perfect ball in for Leroy Sane to finish sweetly. A team goal, a Pep Guardiola goal, a City goal. A goal to sum up a season.



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