Manchester City may be locked in a title battle with Liverpool but before the first of two huge clashes between the Premier League giants, Kevin De Bruyne has admitted he thinks the Anfield side are ‘great’ and praised their entertaining brand of football.
The Belgium playmaker also revealed he ‘wouldn’t mind’ seeing out his career at the Etihad Stadium and described manager Pep Guardiola as ‘the best tactically in the world’ as he looks to secure a fourth league title in five years with City.
With the clubs due to meet twice in the space of a week, first this Sunday in the league, then at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals on Easter Saturday, De Bruyne has come out as something of a fan of City’s biggest rivals for silverware, who like themselves are in fine form.
It is ten top-flight victories in a row for Liverpool – who could win a quadruple – going into the clash in Manchester and Jurgen Klopp’s men are, tantalisingly, just one point behind leaders City having trailed by 13 in January.
‘I think they’re great,’ the 30-year-old told Metro when asked about the Anfield club.
‘I feel like here are two teams fighting each other so much and both know what it takes to keep pushing and pushing and we are the only teams to have done that for the last five years.
‘I like the big matches. It’s two fully attacking teams and our games this season have been entertaining. I can’t remember playing them when it’s been boring.’
De Bruyne believes the effort going into reigning champions City’s bid to hold off Liverpool’s challenge will be worth every moment, whatever the outcome.
‘In my way of thinking, if I tried everything I could to win it and it didn’t happen, it’s okay,’ he says. ‘Sometimes it happens and sometimes it’s not possible.’
For the midfielder, the relentless nature of the schedule post-international break means there are more factors in the title race. City face Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final next Wednesday, in between their Liverpool double-header.
De Bruyne scored the only goal of Tuesday’s first leg and adds: ‘We want to win every game but sometimes you get setbacks. Even if you don’t make it (winning the league), you have the chance to be part of these things (at City). We are doing what everyone wants to do by being in contention for titles.
‘The schedule is so hectic but we have to make sure we keep winning. Fatigue comes into play of course so it is about being as consistent as you possibly can in this period.
‘You have to be fresh as a player and hopefully that helps. The games keep coming every three days until the end now. We know this is the time to push.’
De Bruyne’s two years at Chelsea, from 2012 to 2014, brought just three Premier League appearances after leaving Genk. As his career stalled, he awaited a move away from Stamford Bridge.
He got that by signing for Wolfsburg in January 2014, the switch that brought him to the fore once again, just as a certain Mohamed Salah arrived in west London. Salah scored just twice before finding his feet at Roma, and then Anfield.
Does De Bruyne think they’re the ones that got away? ‘We were just two good players who didn’t play a lot,’ he says. ‘We both needed to gain confidence and get game time and we had to go elsewhere to do that.
‘Maybe it was just a coincidence. You certainly can’t compare me now to what I did then – ten years in football is your whole life.’
De Bruyne’s arrival in Manchester in 2015 was followed a year later by that of Guardiola, the man behind the juggernaut we see today. The pair have been instrumental in getting the club to this position but a first European Cup still eludes them.
After last year’s final defeat to Chelsea, for De Bruyne, it remains the holy grail.
‘The Champions League is always a big one,’ he admits. ‘We tried to win it before, now we try to win it again. We’ve always been there in the latter stages, now we will try, I will try and give it everything.’
He also credits Guardiola with giving many of their Premier League rivals an identity. ‘When he came in he gave me a lot of confidence. Tactically I think he is the best in the world,’ De Bruyne claims.
‘He has his philosophy and that is what he sticks by. People don’t always understand, but it’s his way of life. Half the Premier League now play in the same way as he does but he will always have done it first.’
Turning 31 this year, De Bruyne is beginning to think about what comes next. For a player who has won three league titles, five League Cups and one FA Cup, there is more to achieve with club and country, not least at the World Cup later this year.
Is he coming into his peak? He scored the opening goal in last Saturday’s 2-0 win at relegation-threatened Burnley, a victory which keeps City just marginally clear of Liverpool, and struck again against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
De Bruyne answers: ‘I don’t know about my prime years… There is a misconception that you are past your prime at 31! I feel good and I’m playing good, so hopefully I can carry on for as long as possible.
‘I have another three years on my contract here and that’s a long time. As long as I’m fit and feel happy I’ll play but it’s hard to decide now how long that will be. I can see myself still playing at 35, 36 but it has to be the right club, the right challenge.’
Management could feature on the agenda. De Bruyne is hugely influenced by Guardiola’s approach and is studying for his coaching qualifications in case they’re needed when his playing career ends. ‘I’m not sure yet,’ he adds.
‘I’m doing my badges with the national team. We’ll see.’
With more success surely on the horizon, not least with a championship needing to be put to bed if Liverpool can be overcome, De Bruyne considers the prospect of retiring in the blue of City.
‘I wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t mind at all!’ he laughs as we say our farewells.
De Bruyne magic could be called for this weekend and City fans wouldn’t mind. Not at all.
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