MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Jan 7 – Pep Guardiola has backed a fit-again Kevin De Bruyne to give Manchester City an extra edge as they look to defend their Premier League title from an assault from leaders Liverpool.
The Belgium playmaker marked his latest return from injury with a commanding display as City hammered second-tier Rotherham 7-0 in the third round of the FA Cup at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
De Bruyne, 27, was key as City hit 100 points last season but has twice been sidelined with knee problems so far this season as Liverpool have stolen ahead of Guardiola’s side in the title race.
“I said many times how important Kevin is for us. Without him, last season would maybe not have been possible,” insisted the City manager after Sunday’s Cup stroll.
“So far we have done incredible in terms of results, but we have an opponent (Liverpool) that has done better.
“But they are an opponent that has done better than us without him.”
De Bruyne missed City’s previous two games due to a muscle injury, including the 2-1 win over Liverpool on Thursday that saw City close to within four points of Jurgen Klopp’s table-toppers.
And Guardiola believes a City side with De Bruyne can overhaul that gap.
“Now he is back he will be fresh in the mind and the legs, and is going to help give us extra creativity in the last third, in the fight. Today he was our captain and he showed us why.”
City overwhelmed Championship club Rotherham, with Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and a Semi Ajayi own goal putting them 3-0 up at half-time before Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Nicolas Otamendi and Leroy Sane all scored after the break.
“We took (it) seriously. We do what we have to do to become a great, great club,” said Guardiola.
“The great clubs don’t choose competitions, don’t choose games. Every game you have to do your job and we did amazingly again.”