Football Features

Kevin De Bruyne’s outstanding return to football continues as Man City step up Champions League defence

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:16, 13 February 2024

If you need goals in the Champions League knockout stages, call Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.

Manchester City’s defence of their Champions League title resumed on Tuesday as the last-16 got underway. Going perfect in the group stage, the Citizens were pit against FC Copenhagen who had contributed to knocking Manchester United out of the competition.

At Parken Stadium in the Champions League this season, Copenhagen were beaten by Bayern Munich, but won against both Man United and Galatasaray. Including qualifying, they lost just one of their six games at home.

But it took Man City just 10 minutes to break the deadlock through De Bruyne.

Continuing his return from injury, De Bruyne was making just his third start, but he’s playing like he was never away. It was a well-worked goal by Man City, started with Ruben Dias’ long switch of the ball to Phil Foden. The man in form right, Foden took the ball down well before playing a lovely reverse pass into De Bruyne in the box. The Belgian wasted no time and sent his first-time effort across the goalkeeper into the back of the net.

It was De Bruyne’s 10th goal in his last 22 Champions League knockout games for Manchester City. In fact, each of De Bruyne’s last 10 goals in the Champions League have come in the knockout stages. Only Karim Benzema has had a longer such run in Champions League history, scoring 14 consecutive knockout goals between March 2022 and April 2023.

“With the goal I was looking for Erling (Haaland) but then he was covered really well so I tried to slot it in at the back post, and it went in,” De Bruyne told TNT Sports after the game.

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This wasn’t an easy game for Man City, though, as Copenhagen showed why they had finished second in their group ahead of Galatasaray and Man Utd. The goal was of Man City’s own doing, with Ederson misplacing his pass out, playing it to Mohamed Elyounoussi. The former Southampton man’s shot was blocked but it fell to Magnus Mattsson, whose first-time finish from outside the box beat Ederson perfectly. A perfect way to mark his debut for Copenhagen, having joined from NEC Nijmegen at the start of the month.

It was the second error directly leading to an opposition goal that Ederson has made in the Champions League for Man City, also doing so against Lyon in the 2019/20 season. The Brazilian has now kept just two clean sheets in his seven appearances for Man City since Christmas.

But Man City did go into the break ahead, with Silva restoring their advantage. There was a slice of good fortune for this goal, as De Bruyne’s pass took a nick before falling into the path of Silva, but the Portuguese midfielder’s finish was excellent.

Like De Bruyne, Silva has also scored each of his last 10 Champions League goals in the knockout stages of the competition. Despite the deflection, De Bruyne was awarded the assist for Silva’s goal, meaning he has scored 10 and assisted 10 in his last 22 Champions League knockout stage games for Man City.

No Premier League player has been directly involved in more goals across all competitions in 2024 than De Bruyne, with two goals to go with his six assists.

Aside from Foden’s late strike — which De Bruyne wasn’t credited with the assist for — the second half wasn’t as eventful as the first, but Man City managed to see the win out, with 78.8% possession, 27 shots, 770 accurate passes and 276 passes in the final third. In fact, they had more passes in the final third, than Copenhagen attempted altogether (211)! Man City have now won nine consecutive Champions League games, the longest such run by an English side in the competition’s history.

“I’m just trying to play good football and enjoy myself,” De Bruyne added.

“It’s been a long five-six months but I’m happy to be back helping the win games and I try to do my best.

“I feel alright, obviously I think I still need a couple more games and minutes. I’ve not played 90 minutes, I think with the Brentford game it was almost a year, so that’s a long time. I’m getting there, I’m feeling good.

“The level is good enough for the moment, so I’m happy.”