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De Bruyne deserves Ballon d'Or nod as City slicker shines for Pep Guardiola

Published on: Oct 10 at 8:26pm

Pep Guardiola has lavished praise on Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne.

Manchester City fans often find it odd that more of their players haven't been recognised in the nominations for the Ballon d'Or.

Despite being at the upper end of the Premier League table, finishing inside the top four since first breaking into the Champions League places in 2011, only four different City players have been nominated -- Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli and Kevin De Bruyne.

Perhaps most surprising is that David Silva, a player that many supporters will say is the club's greatest ever, has never been among the nominees. Maybe the comfort comes in the knowledge that he, along with any other City player, was never going to win -- only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have scooped the prize since 2008.

However, for the last three years, one of City's latest stars has been recognised consistently by the selectors. De Bruyne has been shortlisted ever since his arrival at the Etihad, and few could argue that he's not deserving of the honour. He's been one of the most creative and dangerous weapons in both Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola's teams and he's getting to the top of his game.

For years, fans have purred watching Silva glide into space, keep possession in a tight area and then feed a perfectly weighted through ball into the feet of a striker. The Spaniard was the creative force behind City's title wins in 2012 and 2014 and has even continued to make himself un-droppable as he heads into his older years. There's no sign of him slowing down yet.

The attention is slowly switching to his Belgian counterpart, though. Of course, supporters would never claim Silva is past his best, but it's difficult to ignore the growing influence that De Bruyne is beginning to have on City's matches. At Chelsea, where Guardiola's side were supremely dominant even if the score was only 1-0, the two creative midfielders worked brilliantly together to exploit the space created by the visitors' high press.

It was almost a master and apprentice display. Silva, the old hand, kept the ball moving and pulled the strings with cute passes while De Bruyne, the new kid on the block, stole the headlines at the heart of intricate, pacey moves and with a tremendous strike on his old ground.

Even though the Belgian has impressed since joining from Wolfsburg in a club-record £55 million deal, it's only since a tactical shift by Guardiola that he's truly kicked on. Fans may have thought he was good before, but he's been on a whole new level since early 2017.

Kevin De Bruyne has been recognised with a Ballon d'Or nomination.

In Guardiola's first campaign, he initially struggled to work out how De Bruyne could fit into the team with the sheer weight of creative talent at his disposal. Leroy Sane had just signed, Gabriel Jesus was to arrive in January and Raheem Sterling was also coming into his own on the right wing. With Silva playing out of his skin centrally and Aguero getting to grips with what Guardiola demanded of a centre-forward, competition for places was tough.

De Bruyne and Silva often both played in behind Aguero, trying to be the No.10. It was Silva who impressed, while De Bruyne found it difficult to adapt.

The turning point came in City's 3-1 defeat to Monaco, which saw them exit the Champions League on the away goals rule following an incredible 6-6 draw. De Bruyne, occupying the wide right slot, had been struggling throughout a poor first half and it was only when he was switched to a deeper and more central position that he began to find his feet even if it wasn't enough to help City progress.

In the months that followed, De Bruyne operated more like an orthodox central midfielder than a No.10. Picking the ball up from deep meant he was able to drive forward with it at his feet, find one-twos to open up space and start attacks with his killer passes.

It often goes unnoticed how well he can execute his passes. When in the channels, there's nobody better in the Premier League at whipping a wicked delivery into the box, causing havoc for defenders trying to clear it and needing only the deftest of touches to work the goalkeeper. His awareness of where teammates are, combined with his reading of the game and his vision, make him probably the best creator in the Premier League.

As Guardiola has released the shackles on this City side for 2017-18, with the high pressure game and the all-out-attack system, De Bruyne has been given the freedom to roam where he chooses and it makes him the team's most threatening playmaker.

He won't win this year's Ballon d'Or -- place your bets on another Ronaldo or Messi victory there. However, as Guardiola develops his City team with its own identity, the midfielder will be at the heart of everything the Catalan does.

David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney


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