Kevin De Bruyne was hailed as easily the best player in the Premier League by a wounded Mark Hughes after his Stoke City side had been picked apart by the Belgian orchestrator in a marvellous Manchester City symphony on Saturday. De Bruyne did not score but he did everything else in a fabulous all-round performance that inspired the leaders to a thrilling 7-2 evisceration of Stoke at the Etihad Stadium.
It was a display so magnificent that Hughes, a fine performer himself in his Manchester United heyday but not a man given to wild praise, was moved to suggest: “For me he is the best player in the Premier League by a country mile.” Hughes called De Bruyne’s quality throughout the match as “absolutely sensational” as the 26-year-old was the heartbeat of arguably the best team performance by any Premier League side this season. As the purring over his display could be heard all around the Etihad, De Bruyne, who has been producing one masterclass after another there this season, tried to mute the rave reviews by reminding everyone it was not a one-man show.
“We play in a flow at the moment – we are playing well. Not just me,” he shrugged. It is true that a host of City’s players are in tremendous form – Raheem Sterling scored his seventh goal of the season and Leroy Sane his sixth – as City became the first English top-flight side to score 29 in their first eight league games of the campaign since Everton in 1894-95. Yet none of his team mates are quite operating on De Bruyne’s exalted level, as even the flying Gabriel Jesus, whose double took his tally to six for the season, seemed to accept.
“We all feel lucky to have him in our team,” the young Brazilian said. With City now resembling the sort of brilliant, free-flowing creation that Pep Guardiola was brought in at great expense to deliver, even the Spanish manager accepted that at the centre of it all flitted a player who “is one of the best by far”.
With two more assists to his name, De Bruyne has now helped set up 32 league goals since his City debut in September, 2015, more than any other player, and he is clearly the early pacesetter in the race for the season’s individual awards.