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Kevin De Bruyne imitates Cristiano Ronaldo in devastating Man City role

By Simon Bajkowski

Kevin De Bruyne's hat-trick goal at Wolves may have been unstoppable from the moment it left his weaker foot but it did bring to an end an astonishing sequence for the Belgian superstar. That strike was his first in 10 that hadn't given Manchester City the lead in a game.

Twice at Molineux his goals put City in front, as he did against Real Madrid, and Liverpool, and Atletico, and Burnley, and Southampton, and United, and United again. Of the last 16 times City have taken the lead in a game, more than half have been through their talismanic playmaker.

Capturing all of the headlines the day after the arrival of Erling Haaland was announced was a useful reminder to all of just how important De Bruyne has been to Pep Guardiola this season specifically. It is no exaggeration to think City would not be ahead of Liverpool without his goals, and his form over the second half of the campaign shows why - whatever the awards say - he has probably been the outstanding player at the Etihad and in the division for the 2021/22 campaign.

Also read: Foden wants Man City teammates to pause Erling Haaland excitement

Guardiola described De Bruyne's second half of the season as 'beyond perfect' following his four goals at Molineux and his statistics are striking: before Boxing Day, the only opening goal of a game he had scored was against Wycombe Wanderers; after two goals from his first 13 starts of the season, since the Leicester game on December 26 he has 17 from 24. De Bruyne's form in 2022 will make rivals relieved he wasn't fully fit before then.

What is exceptional about those goals though is their importance to games. The 30-year-old has scored the opening goal of the game nine times this season - twice more than Raheem Sterling or Riyad Mahrez have managed. In terms of goals to take the lead or equalise - goals that change the match situation, basically - his 13 is four better than Mahrez.

In total, one in every four times City have equalised or taken the lead it has been De Bruyne. These goals also make up 68 per cent of his total goals, so more than two-thirds of his goals are hugely significant - and it was at 76 per cent before his third and fourth at Wolves!

This is in a league of its own as far as City are concerned this season, but it is also right up there across the league. Harry Kane, Mo Salah, Son Heung-Min and Sadio Mane will all finish with more goals than De Bruyne for the campaign but none of them have scored a higher number of decisive goals for their clubs. Among Premier League clubs, only Diogo Jota and Cristiano Ronaldo - the man City contemplated signing last summer to fill their No.9 void - have more.

It should be noted, too, that all of them are thought of as more attacking players and bigger goal threats because they play higher up the pitch. De Bruyne has been more advanced at times this season in a false nine role, but he has still spent the majority of his time in midfield.

Ronaldo is of course out in front, and while the dearth of support he has had in the United squad contributes to that it should be acknowledged that such a record is exactly why City thought about signing him and why they have moved to snap up Haaland. When the Norwegian arrives, there is no guarantee that De Bruyne will be as prolific in contributing goals.

In terms of this season though, the playmaker has stepped into those No.9 shoes better than anyone could have predicted. He may not end up with the most goals this season but his goals appear to have been more important than anyone else's in deciding where the Premier League trophy ends up.

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