Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne insists he was not tired and could have started this season as he ended the last but for two freak knee injuries.
De Bruyne returned to action as a second-half substitute against Everton on Saturday, only his fourth Premier League appearance of the season and almost seven weeks after his previous outing.
Manager Pep Guardiola admitted last week the champions had missed the 27-year-old but hoped the lay-offs could prove a blessing in disguise with the player being fresher for the remainder of the campaign.
Guardiola felt De Bruyne ended last season “exhausted” and was still “a little bit tired” at the start of this term having helped Belgium to the World Cup semi-finals in the summer.
Yet De Bruyne, who was rested for the Community Shield and on the bench for the Premier League opener at Arsenal, felt he had enough rest.
He said: “I wasn’t exhausted. I had a rest of about three weeks after 12 months of playing. Is that short? Probably, yes, but I felt OK to come back.
“I played the most of anyone last year – in the whole world – and I played the World Cup without a problem. I think the most important thing is having a summer break, if you have that you can feel OK.
“There is always a time in someone’s career where you feel a bit less but I felt all right. It was just a shame that when I came back after one week I was then out for two-and-a-half months.
“I was happy to come back and worked really hard but after three games it happened again.”
De Bruyne’s injuries were not related, affecting different knees, and he felt no ill effects after his run-out against Everton.
He said: “I worked hard to be back. To play a little bit feels good, feels comfortable. That’s the main thing.
“I’m happy with my body because I know I have no problems with muscles. They were both just accidents. I felt my knee and it pops, so you just work hard and try to be back as soon as possible.”
De Bruyne could get more game time as City travel to Leicester in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday but he concedes he is unsure how long it will take him to rediscover his best form.
He said: “We’ll see, it’s difficult to say. I’ve not been out that amount of time (before). I’ll work hard to get back as soon as possible but I don’t put pressure on myself.”
After an intriguing final round of group stage fixtures in the Champions League and Europa League, the Premier League was finally back with a great set of fixtures.
Manchester City temporarily returned to the top of the table after beating Everton on Saturday afternoon, but were leapfrogged by Liverpool on Sunday after the Reds sealed a convincing win over rivals Manchester United.
Wins for Tottenham and Chelsea over Burnley and Brighton respectively keep them in touching distance, but Arsenal’s loss to Southampton sees them fall three points behind fourth placed Chelsea.
Manchester United’s loss means they now sit an incredible 11 points away from the top four and must now worry about being caught by an in-form Wolves, who won their third successive match to take them one point behind the Red Devils.
West Ham’s fourth win in a row takes them into ninth place, whilst crucial wins for Newcastle and Crystal Palace give them some breathing space above the relegation zone.
Southampton finally escape the relegation zone but are only separated from Burnley on goal difference.
Who made themselves count when needed most and who disappeared? Here are our winners and losers.
Gabriel Jesus – Manchester City
The Brazilian forward had not scored a league goal since August but finally broke his barren run with an impressive brace against Everton.
The striker’s assured finishing will be a massive boost for City, who have a very tough run of fixtures in all competitions over the next month.
Jesus will now be hoping to contend with Sergio Aguero for a starting position and if he can continue getting goals, then Pep Guardiola will have a tough choice to make.
Danny Ings – Southampton
The on-loan forward proved his worth to the Saints with two accurate headers to inspire his side to a famous victory over Arsenal in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s first home match in charge of the side.
His movement throughout the match was clever and Arsenal found it difficult to mark him inside the box.
If Ings can stay in this form, then he certainly has the ability to fire Southampton away from the relegation zone.
Xherdan Shaqiri – Liverpool
Shaqiri would have been disappointed to see himself start the match against Man Utd on the bench, but he did not let that affect him.
The Swiss international was brought on with the score at 1-1 and he immediately inspired Liverpool to a massive victory by scoring two goals.
Both efforts were heavily deflected, but it was clear to see how his introduction lifted the entire team, with United finding it hard to mark the former Stoke City man.
Denis Odoi – Fulham
The Fulham defender endured a torrid afternoon against West Ham tricky winger Felipe Anderson.
Odoi simply could not contain the skilful and pacey wide-man and the Hammers continuously targeted that side of the Fulham defence.
Odoi will no doubt be having nightmares about Anderson for the next few days as Fulham have still not kept a clean sheet all season.
Yerry Mina – Everton
Despite making a good start to his Everton career, Mina endured a horrific afternoon at the Etihad Stadium against Man City.
The centre-back’s misplaced pass in the first half set City on their way to the opener and after that, the Colombian’s confidence was low.
Any defender in the world would struggle against an in-form City side, but this was Mina’s chance to show that he could handle the pressure and sadly for him, he didn’t take it.
The Gunners’ impressive 22-match unbeaten run finally came to an end at the hands of Southampton at the St Mary’s Stadium.
Unai Emery currently has a huge defensive crisis and that could be seen as the Saints netted three past the north London side.
However, there is no need for Arsenal to panic as Emery will be interested to see how his players react to such a frustrating defeat.
Antonio Rudiger has revealed he is not in talks with Chelsea over a new contract.
The defender had been rumoured to be thrashing out a new deal with the Blues, but the German insists he is happy with his current terms.
The 25-year-old has almost four years to run on his existing Stamford Bridge contract and maintained he is very happy with that status quo.
When asked if he is discussing new terms with Chelsea, Rudiger replied: “That’s not the case to be honest.
“There’s no need, because I still have three-and-a-half years to go.
“There’s no speaking between me and the club. It’s also not necessary at the moment either with three-and-a-half years to go.”
Chelsea held onto fourth place in the Premier League table with Sunday’s 2-1 win at Brighton, where Eden Hazard teed up Pedro before netting himself.
Hazard now boasts a direct hand in 17 goals in 16 league matches this term, already more than his combined goals and assists total from last season.
Blues boss Maurizio Sarri has challenged the playmaker to find the net 40 times this campaign, but Rudiger insists the 27-year-old is just as happy creating as he is scoring.
“He doesn’t have too much ego, so if he sees someone in a better position he plays them in, and that’s fair enough,” said Rudiger.
“The way he’s playing is fantastic. We all know what he’s capable of and I’m happy for him. Every position he plays he makes a statement, he’s strong.
“He’s really doing a fantastic job. He’s a leader, he’s a good example, not by speaking, but by doing, so he’s very good.”
Hazard operated as a false nine at Brighton as Sarri kept target man Olivier Giroud on the bench with Alvaro Morata sidelined through knee trouble.
The Belgian favours a role on the wing, and has never hidden those feelings, but continues to excel wherever he is deployed.
Chelsea defender David Luiz insisted Hazard will keep on producing, no matter the role he is asked to fulfil.
“Intelligent players can play anywhere, he’s a top player, a world-class player,” said Luiz. “So it doesn’t matter which position he is on the pitch, he’s intelligent and knows what to do.”
Bernardo’s knock down laid on Brighton’s goal for Solly March, setting up a tense finale.
The Brazilian full-back revealed his pride at warming to his south-coast task.
“I’m pleased that I have a good level and can prove myself against hard opponents, I’m really proud of myself,” Bernardo told Brighton’s official club website.
“It was difficult, but that’s why I came to this league. I wanted to prove that I’m a player capable of playing against such players and I feel like I did a good job.”