Kevin De Bruyne’s timely return to action for Manchester City is a major boost for Pep Guardiola as his team brace for a punishing programme over the festive period.
The Belgium international, who has been limited to just 96 minutes of league football so far this season, started the midweek League Cup quarter-final against Leicester, which City won on penalties.
He completed 70 minutes in only his second outing since injuring his knee for a second time this season in a League Cup tie with Fulham on November 1 and scored City’s goal in the 1-1 draw.
“I’ve been out so long, so to play 70 minutes is a really good sign for me personally,” he told the club’s official website. “I feel a little bit stiff but I’m happy to contribute again.”
De Bruyne put in a huge effort last season for his club, featuring in 52 league and cup games for City and was named their player of the season.
He also faced a punishing international schedule, which culminated in Belgium finishing third at the World Cup – the sheer number of games for club and country sparked concerns from Guardiola that De Bruyne had not had enough rest during the summer.
When he picked up a ligament injury in his right knee in training just one game into the new season such fears seemed well-founded – he then hurt his left knee against Fulham soon after returning to action.
The player, however, believes he was the victim of bad luck.
“I played the most of anyone last year – in the whole world,” said De Bruyne. “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 but 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 out for two-and-a-half months. I was happy to come back and worked really hard but after three games it happened again.”
The 27-year-old is upbeat despite his disrupted season and is preparing to help second-placed City in their title defence.
“There’s nothing I can do – it was two accidents,” he said. “I’m happy with my body because I know I have no problems with muscles. They were both just accidents, the second time also. I felt my knee and it pops, so you just work hard and try to be back as soon as possible.”
Chelsea assistant manager Gianfranco Zola has urged Eden Hazard to reject a potential offer from Real Madrid and focus on becoming the Blues’ all-time greatest player.
Hazard has been strongly linked with Real for several months after the Belgium star refused to rule out a move to the Bernabeu and admitted playing for the Spanish giants would be a dream come true.
The 27-year-old’s current contract with Chelsea expires in June 2020 and he is yet to agree to an extension as he weighs up his future.
Chelsea have reportedly offered to make Hazard the highest paid player in the club’s history in a bid to keep him.
Zola was voted the best player in Chelsea’s history in 2003 after serving the club with distinction as a gifted playmaker with similar skills to Hazard.
The Italian, now back at Chelsea working for boss Maurizio Sarri, believes Hazard is capable of stealing that cherished title from him if he stays at Stamford Bridge.
“He’s certainly one of the players who has given this club a lot of satisfaction,” Zola said.
“He is 27, and hopefully he will stay long with us and become even bigger.”
Since arriving from Lille in 2012, Hazard has already established himself as a Chelsea great, playing key roles in two Premier League title triumphs, scoring the winning goal in last season’s FA Cup final and also lifting the Europa League and League Cup.
Each week, Sport360 will bring you tips for the English Premier League’s official fantasy football game. Fancy pitting your wits against us? You can join “Sport360 Fans League” using the code 2326997-532303.
Gameweek 17 in Fantasy Premier League brought some interesting managerial selections with it and we can only expect more now as we dive head first into the fest period.
The Premier League games are coming thick and fast now and the focus must be on fielding a full starting XI over the next few GWs.
Manchester United are unsurprisingly in the news with Jose Mourinho’s sacking but you may want to see what line-up interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer goes with in his first match in charge against former side Cardiff City before rushing towards their assets.
Here are a few tips ahead of Gameweek 18.
CAPTAIN – RAHEEM STERLING | MANCHESTER CITY | 11.6M
After getting a bit of a rest in GW17, much to the frustration of many of his FPL owners, Raheem Sterling should return to Manchester City’s starting XI when they host Crystal Palace.
Of course, he did soften the blow for his growing ownership with a goal off the bench in the win over Everton. His appearance only as a substitute in City’s Carabao Cup clash with Leicester City in midweek only increases the likelihood of him start at the Etihad on Saturday.
Sterling has five goals and fives assists in his last seven league outings and he only seems to be getting better as the season progresses. He’s looking like their talisman now and most attacks seem to heavily involve him.
Meanwhile, Palace have just won two away games this season – at Fulham and Huddersfield – and have tasted victory just once since GW5. The odds are stacked against them and you wouldn’t bet against Sterling bagging a big haul in this fixture.
EDEN HAZARD (11.0m) has steadily been chipping away with points from assists but his new role as a false nine has boosted his potential for goals as well. The Belgian scored in a 13-point haul at Brighton before coming off the bench against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup to bag the winner.
LEROY SANE (9.7m) is one of the hottest FPL players at the moment. He’s started each of the last five GWs and has delivered attacking returns in four of them. Having been excluded from the squad entirely in midweek, he seems nailed on for a start against Palace.
CALLUM WILSON (6.9m) has returned to fitness and should go straight back into Bournemouth’s starting XI. Before his injury, the striker was on a run of five goals and an assist in six GWs which included fixtures against United, Arsenal and City. With Brighton at home this time, The Cherries will want to make up for their cup exit before travelling to Spurs and United.
TWO TO WATCH
DANNY INGS | SOUTHAMPTON | 5.4M
Danny Ings is another bargain striker who has returned to fitness. A brace against Arsenal last week has seen his popularity surge and rightly so. In his last three outings, he’s registered three goals and an assist. Under new coach Ralph Hasenhuttl, Ings looks like he could be the main man for the Saints.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE | MANCHESTER UNITED | 9.7M
As far as straight swaps for Arnautovic go, Javier Hernandez is probably the no1 choice. Lucas Perez is an option as well but if Manuel Pellegrini opts for a lone striker, you’d expect the Mexican to be the preferred choice. With three goals and an assist in the last three GWs, he’s looking sharp and the Hammers still have a good run of fixtures ahead.
TWO TO AVOID
GYLFI SIGURDSSON | EVERTON | 7.4M
Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson had a good spell earlier on in the season but has managed just one goal and no assists in the last six GWs. He missed a penalty against Watford and since Lucas Digne’s late free-kick goal to salvage a draw on that occasion, his hold over set-pieces is diminishing as well.
GLENN MURRAY| BRIGHTON | 6.6M
There are still a fair few managers holding on to Glenn Murray who was a real budget option up front earlier in the campaign. However, just one start in Brighton’s last four league games and just two goals in nine GWs doesn’t make for great reading while the Seagulls have three of the ‘big six’ to face in five fixtures following this weekend’s action.