Kevin De Bruyne has been the best midfielder in the world for the last five years.
That doesn’t mean he has held the unofficial number one ranking for all those months consecutively as other players have certainly risen to the top at various points, particularly during the Belgian’s injury-plagued 2018/19 season.
And you could argue that it’s futile making such a statement since it’s virtually impossible to compare a playmaker to an anchor or metronome – midfielders come in all shapes and sizes.
N’Golo Kante’s role is different from Luka Modric’s role which is different from Thiago Alcantara’s role which is different from Bruno Fernandes’ role and so on.
Despite this complexity of factors and the usual caveat of subjectivity, it’s hard to argue a case against De Bruyne’s supremacy in the arbitrary time period stated.
Some people (Real Madrid fans most likely) will be highlighting the fact the 29-year-old hasn’t won the Champions League, something he can rectify this weekend as Pep Guardiola’s side take on Chelsea.
Too often are individuals defined by the achievements of the teams they represent – this is not an effective way of judging individual merit.
Put aside trophies – and in De Bruyne’s case there are a lot – along with tonight’s outcome in Porto and simply consider which midfielders positively impact games most often and to a dramatic extent.
Stripping football back to a perilous level of simplicity, midfielders in De Bruyne’s mould are tasked with creating goalscoring opportunities for their team-mates.
In this most basic underlining regard, he is unmatched over a five-year stretch.
He has provided 78 assists in 180 Premier League appearances – that works out at 0.43 assists per game.
How does that compare to the other most prolific assist-providers in Premier League history? Take a look…
- Kevin De Bruyne 0.43 (assists per game)
- Cesc Fabregas – 0.32
- David Beckham – 0.3
- David Silva – 0.3
- Dennis Bergkamp – 0.29
- Ryan Giggs – 0.26
- Wayne Rooney – 0.21
- Steven Gerrard – 0.18
- Frank Lampard – 0.17
- James Milner – 0.15
Since you’re probably curious:
- Bruno Fernandes – 0.37
- Mesut Ozil – 0.29
There will be sceptics who claim their grandmother could get ten assists a season playing in midfield for Man City but that doesn’t really stack up when you consider De Bruyne’s efforts to earn the transfer in the first place.
In 2014/15 he racked up 20 league assists while playing for Wolfsburg, inspiring them to a second-place finish in the Bundesliga and claiming the Footballer of the Year award – he left Germany averaging 0.42 assists per game in the top flight.
The season of De Bruyne’s departure, Wolfsburg finished 8th.
And to hammer home the point, De Bruyne actually has an even better record for Belgium, averaging 0.48 assists per game.
Playmakers are obligated to score a fair share of the goals themselves of course.
This is where a player like Bruno Fernandes enters the conversation as a creative hub AND a prolific goalscorer – even without the penalties he would be among the top-scoring midfielders in the league.
If Man United’s talisman is able to maintain his current output in the coming years – and the underlying statistics suggest he can – then he will certainly stake a claim for the midfield throne.
Fernandes is the only player to have created more ‘big chances’ (as defined by OPTA) than De Bruyne in the league this season, although he did play over 1,000 more minutes than the Belgian.
In relation to the early statistic, Fernandes is a close competitor of De Bruyne’s with an impressive average of 0.37 assists per Premier League appearance.
It’s the enduring quality of De Bruyne and the peaking nature of Fernandes’ career arc that has resulted in the pair being made the joint-most expensive midfielders in Dream Team Euros.
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Plenty of bosses will be budgeting elsewhere to afford both but other may feel they can only justify one £6.0m midfielder.
Perhaps their respective schedules will be the deciding factor.
Portugal face a tough task in Group F alongside France, Germany and Hungary while Belgium have arguably the most favourable group of all with games against Denmark, Russia and Finland to traverse before the group stages.
With all due respect to their opponents, De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku could run riot in the first two weeks of the tournament.