Kevin De Bruyne has admitted he may not get back to his best this season as he aims to lift Manchester City’s quadruple bid.
De Bruyne opened the scoring in City’s 2-0 win over Cardiff on Wednesday and played the full 90 minutes to complete his latest comeback in a season ruined by injury.
His sixth-minute finish from a tight angle offered reminders of De Bruyne’s sparkling form last season, but he later admitted it was a mis-hit cross and that it was unrealistic for him to rediscover his best form in the final weeks of the campaign.
“To be fair I don’t think I’m going to be like last year,” the 27-year-old said. “I’m not setting a goal for myself anymore.
“It’s been hard in the end because I have had to come back four times now in the whole season.
“I try to be at the best level possible but I’m just trying to help the team win some titles. If I can help with that I’ll be happy.”
De Bruyne has suffered two significant knee injuries this season and was sidelined just before the international break with a hamstring problem.
The goal now is to stay fit for the final six weeks of the campaign as City continue to compete on three fronts, locked in a close title race with Liverpool while also in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Wednesday’s match was De Bruyne’s 25th appearance of the season, and his first full 90 minutes since February 27, a far cry from last campaign when he was one of the first names on Pep Guardiola’s team-sheet.
“Whatever happens, happens for me this year,” the Belgian added. “I want to do what I can and play at my best level but I won’t compare myself to last year when I played 70 games and was on such a roll.
“I’ve had to fight back, mentally, and it’s been tough because you can be injured once or twice but to be injured four times is hard work, I’m just happy to be back playing football.”
De Bruyne was joined in City’s midfield on Wednesday night by Phil Foden, who made his long-awaited first Premier League start and was unlucky not to score as the 18-year-old went close three times in the second half, including a shot which struck a post.
Much has been made of Foden’s struggle to break into City’s star-studded squad as other teenagers look abroad for playing time, but De Bruyne – who was a regular for Genk at the same age – said each player must take his own path.
“You can’t compare what happens with anybody else in their career,” he said. “He’s happy here, doing really well and he plays a lot of minutes for his age.
“To play here, in this team, or in any top team in England, where you have 20 star players who are all top internationals who have played five to 10 years for their countries and for big teams and have the minutes he has, is incredible.”
Wednesday night also saw Callum Hudson-Odoi make his first Premier League start for De Bruyne’s former club Chelsea, and the Belgian admitted he is impressed by the depth of young English talent.
“I told the England guys a week ago that you should win the Euros,” he said. “I think they are favourites, with France.
“I see the guys already established, and those coming up, so the future looks really good.
“Will they win it? I don’t know, because only one team can win it but you have a chance to do well in the next 10 years.”
The South Korean became the first player to score a competitive goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as Spurs celebrated moving home by beating Crystal Palace 2-0 in a housewarming party to remember.
He takes his place in the record books alongside Tom Smith, who scored the first goal at White Hart Lane way back in 1899.
Asked if the goal, which was heavily deflected and eased the tension after a nervy opening 55 minutes, was the best moment of his Spurs career, he said: “Yes, probably. Every single moment at Tottenham is special.
“It means a lot, especially tonight I am very proud of my team-mates, proud of this stadium, proud of the fans. Everything is positive at the moment. I am really the happiest guy in the world.
“It is amazing, to play in this amazing stadium and give me this opportunity, it is unbelievable. It was a great result, that is the most important thing.”
Spurs were away for 689 days and had to play at Wembley 51 times while White Hart Lane was demolished and their majestic 62,062-seater stadium was built.
The win over Palace, which was secured by Christian Eriksen’s late goal, was only the second time Spurs’ players have been to the stadium but Son says it already feels like home.
“It sounded very loud,” he said. “Wembley is one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world but it was not actually our home.
“We finally felt like we came back home, on the pitch, but also in the stands as well, it was so loud, it gave us a boost for this moment.”
Tottenham’s return to their own home could not have come at a better time as their league form was floundering, with one point from five matches seeing their top-four aspirations come under serious threat.
But for them to be in the race for the top four this season is an impressive achievement, given the distractions of the new stadium, which suffered an eight-month delay.
Striker Harry Kane says the club no longer have any excuses and have to get the job done in the last few weeks of the season.
“Being on the pitch just felt like home,” Kane said. “In the final year at the old White Hart Lane we finished unbeaten and I hope this will be the same.
“Obviously we have got four games left to look forward to and hopefully we will get the results.
“It has been a tough few weeks for us and we are in a battle for the top four. Obviously with (Manchester) United losing, it was up to us to gain a few points on them.
“We have got four more games here at home and, yeah, we want to win them. We are confident anyway. We feel like we have done well this season obviously with everything that has been going on.
“There are no excuses now. We are here, we are home, and if we play like that we will be all right.”
Liverpool paid agents nearly £44million in the two transfer windows this season, topping the Premier League table for fees paid to intermediaries for the second year in a row, the Football Association has revealed.
Under FIFA rules, the governing body has been publishing the total payments made by clubs in England’s top five divisions to agents for the last three years, as well as a list of every transfer which involved an agent.
The latest figures, which cover the 2018 summer and 2019 winter windows, show that Premier League clubs spent a combined £261million on agent fees, £50million more than a year before, an increase of nearly 25 per cent.
Having shelled out £27million on agents in 2017/18, thanks to the transfers of Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah, the Anfield club spent £17million more this season, following the big-money moves for Alisson Becker, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Just as in last year’s list, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United complete the top four, with Chelsea spending £27million, City £24million and United £21million.
Everton’s summer spending spree saw them rise to fifth in terms of agent fees on £19million, with West Ham next in line on £14million. Championship clubs paid out a combined £50million, £8million more than a year ago, with Stoke giving agents more than £7million.
League One sides spent almost £6million, with Sunderland accounting for half of the total on their own, and League Two clubs gave agents just under £1million, Northampton being the most generous. Salford were the National League’s biggest spenders, paying out £76,000 in fees.
Overall, English football spent £318million on intermediaries, up £60million on a year ago.
This news comes a day before Premier League clubs are set to meet in London to discuss ways to bring down the amount they spend on middlemen.
The key measures are expected to be a ban on dual representation, the bizarre practice which has allowed agents to represent both the buying and selling club in the same deal, caps on fees and the reintroduction of an exam to become an agent.