Pep Guardiola hopes Kevin De Bruyne’s recent injuries prove a blessing in disguise after the Manchester City playmaker began this season “tired”.
De Bruyne has made just three substitute appearances in the Premier League this term, and not featured at all since November 1, after suffering two separate knee injuries.
The 27-year-old was the star of City’s title-winning campaign last season and shone again in the summer as Belgium reached the World Cup semi-finals.
Guardiola believes he was still feeling the effects of his heavy workload when his injury problems began and he hopes the enforced rest will have done him good as he nears a comeback.
The City boss said: “I think Kevin finished last season exhausted, it was so tough for him. He played a lot of minutes, a lot. It was an incredible performance and after that he went to the World Cup.
“When he came back I had the feeling that he was a little bit tired still. Sometimes people recover quite well, sometimes mentally it takes time.
“We don’t want to be injured but maybe it helped us. Now he’s fresh in his mind, he is recovered and now he tries again to avoid the injuries and play regularly.
“Of course he is going to be important for us, he is a special player for us.”
De Bruyne and striker Sergio Aguero, who has missed four games with a groin injury, are both in contention for Saturday’s clash with Everton at the Etihad Stadium after returning to training this week.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Guardiola said of Aguero: “He did the last training session with the team. He has no pain in his injury so afterwards we are going to decide.”
On De Bruyne, he added: “The same as Sergio, he trained quite well, no pain. We’ll see.”
City have lost just twice in all competitions this season but Guardiola feels De Bruyne has been badly missed.
He said: “Yes, a lot. I said it from the beginning when he got an injury the first time, and the second time, we were going to miss him.
“Of course he has to recover his full condition and he has to compete with the players who have done incredibly good so far, but when you have more players we can rotate it more. If we have competition between them it’s much better. Of course it’s good news when he is coming back.”
After barely getting over the drama of the midweek fixtures, the Premier League was back again for another incredible weekend.
Manchester City fell to their first defeat of the season at the hands of Chelsea, meaning that Liverpool’s 4-0 victory over Bournemouth sees them top the table. Another Spurs victory keeps them six points away from the top of the table, while Arsenal and Chelsea are only separated on goal difference.
Manchester United leap into sixth place after beating Fulham, while Everton scored a last gasp equaliser against Watford to be two points behind the Red Devils.
Successive victories for Wolves and West Ham see them leap up to mid-table, and Burnley’s 1-0 win over Brighton sees them move out of the relegation zone.
Who stepped up and delivered the goods and who cowered under the pressure? Here are our winners and losers.
Mohamed Salah – Liverpool
The Egyptian was back to his clinical self at the Vitality Stadium as he single-handedly tore the Cherries apart.
The winger was in the right place at the right time to finish the first and added a second with an accurate finish.
The third was the best of the bunch as he virtually walked the ball into the net, sending Asmir Begovic sprawling to the floor twice with some sensational dummies. The treble now sees Salah join Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the top of the goal scoring charts.
Marcus Rashford – Manchester United
Rashford was in dazzling form at Old Trafford and Fulham simply could not handle the trickery of the forward.
One goal and two assists saw him light up Old Trafford and deservedly earn the Man of the Match award.
Rashford and United will be hoping for more of the same in their next league fixture against Liverpool.
David Luiz – Chelsea
The Brazilian endured a torrid afternoon against Tottenham a few weeks ago, but he was inspirational at the back as the Blues defeated City at Stamford Bridge.
Luiz defended brilliantly to help his side keep a clean sheet but also managed to get his name on the scoresheet with a well-directed header in the second half.
If Chelsea are to challenge for the title, they need this Luiz to turn up to every game because when he plays like this, it lifts the entire team.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa – Fulham
The midfielder had an afternoon to forget at Old Trafford as he was run ragged in the middle of the pitch.
His day went from bad to worse as he was sent off for two bookable offences just before the 70-minute mark.
He’ll now miss Fulham’s clash with West Ham on the weekend.
DeAndre Yedlin – Newcastle United
Yedlin was having a fairly good game until a lapse in concentration cost him and Newcastle dearly.
The American’s heavy first touch saw Diogo Jota snatch the ball and race clean through, with Yedlin having no other option but to pull the Wolves forward down.
Referee Mike Dean had no hesitation as he sent the full-back off, leaving Newcastle to play with 10 men for just over 30 minutes.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – Everton
The Iceland international has been in decent form in recent weeks but simply did not going in the 2-2 draw against Watford.
The playmaker had the chance to level the scores for the Toffees in the second half from the penalty spot, but he was denied by Ben Foster.
It was an uncharacteristic performance from Sigurdsson, who is normally reliable from the spot.
Cesc Fabregas hopes the indefensible discriminatory behaviour of some Chelsea supporters can highlight the issue to help eradicate it in football and beyond.
Chelsea and the Metropolitan Police opened investigations after alleged racist abuse was directed at Manchester City‘s Raheem Sterling by a section of home supporters during last Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge. Four Blues fans were subsequently suspended.
However, minutes into the Blues’ next game – Thursday night’s Europa League clash with Vidi in Budapest’s Groupama Arena, which was drawn 2-2 – a vocal minority of Chelsea supporters were heard singing a derogatory chant about Tottenham supporters.
Anti-discrimination leaders have joined Chelsea in strongly criticising the chanting, which UEFA will investigate, and Fabregas joined the condemnation.
“If we have to be taught a lesson at Chelsea to improve whatever happens around the world, then I’m happy,” midfielder Fabregas said.
“But to point the finger at one football club because of three or four of these people, I don’t think it’s deserved and I don’t agree with that. The focus now is on Chelsea for what happened. Unfortunately if we look around carefully all over the world, all sports, all football clubs, we will find things like that.
“It’s true it happened this (past) weekend, we cannot deny that, but to point the finger at one football club because of that I think it’s really unfair. There’s an investigation, the club is dealing with this very, very well. Whatever needs to be done will be done. I’ve no doubt about that.
“When we cross the line with racism, it’s too far, shouldn’t be allowed. The people that got caught, they will be punished and they will be taught a big lesson in their lives. The quicker we get rid of these people, the better. This is not the real face of Chelsea.”
Even if the police find there is not enough evidence to pursue criminal convictions in the abuse of Sterling, Chelsea’s threshold for offences is lower, so the four suspended individuals could see their bans remain in place.
Identifying any individuals involved in the chanting in Budapest could prove difficult, as, although Chelsea have details for all their 1,200 supporters via their European away ticket scheme, CCTV coverage of the stadium was poor.