Etihad Stadium, Manchester, UK. 6th May, 2023. Premier League Football, Manchester City versus Leeds United; Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City prepares to defend a corner kick

Kevin De Bruyne came *this* close to the assist of the season for Haaland

Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne has 16 Premier League assists this season. No player in Europe’s major leagues has more. But not one of them were as sexy as his brilliant flick for a would-be assist against Leeds United.

It was actually Ilkay Gundogan, playing a little deeper in the absence of Rodri, that stole the show as Sam Allardyce’s Leeds visited the Etihad. The captain scored both of City’s goals in their 2-1 victory and almost singlehandedly dictated the tempo of the game.

City had all of the possession and territory against Leeds, who were somewhat unsurprisingly set up to defend deep and soak up pressure in Allardyce’s first game in charge. In the first half alone, Ilkay Gundogan completed 94 passes – 44 more than Leeds collectively – and registered 108 touches – 87 more than any opposition player.

It was two brilliant finishes from the German that cut through the visitors, who set up with men behind the ball, looking to deny them space.

But the most outstanding moment that came in City’s entirely dominant display was a sumptuous touch from De Bruyne.

It was a ball over the top from Gungodan that found the Belgian lurking in the box. He’d drifted into a pocket of space but could do little the ball, given it was coming in behind him with his back to goal – or so it appeared.

Twisting away from Max Wober, De Bruyne pulled off an extraordinary, acrobatic flick that evaded the Leeds defended and fell into the path of Erling Haaland. Half of the playmaker’s 16 Premier League assists have been for Haaland, but the Norwegian striker had an uncharacteristic off-day and blazed it wide.

De Bruyne was robbed of a glorious assist, but it didn’t make the pass any less special.

The man is blessed with an understanding of the game that few of his contemporaries can match. And he makes that clear with his wonderfully frank interviews, in which he doesn’t dumb things down or speak in platitudes. The 31-year-old often gives in-depth, tactical answers that give pitchside reporters more than they bargained for.

“Normally we play with two number eights and I think he [Guardiola] wanted a little bit more control because of the way they press,” De Bruyne explained following the potentially title-defining victory over Arsenal last month.

“So Gundo [Ilkay Gundogan] would be a double six and I had to choose more the moments, depending on who presses out of Xhaka and Partey – if Partey was pressing I would try to go on his back and the other way round, and it was difficult for [Rob] Holding and Gabriel.

“[They had to decide] do they have to go with me or are they staying with Erling. I couldn’t find the moments in the first half, and obviously they switched a little bit in the second half, but I was a little more free today.”

He didn’t speak to the media following the win over Leeds, but you imagine he’d have given a similarly eloquent answer about how exactly to go about breaking down a low block.

It’s one thing knowing how, but De Bruyne also possesses the ingenuity and technical ability to put best-laid plans into practice. That’s a lethal combination.

Excuse us, we’re just going to back and watch the above clip 10 more times to try and work out just how he contorted his body to pull off that pass.

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