Kevin De Bruyne scored his first goal of the season for Manchester City on Tuesday night but Pep Guardiola was more impressed with his backwards runs.
The Belgian playmaker has been a peripheral figure so far this season after arriving back at the Etihad with an injury from the European Championship, and Ruben Dias and Ilkay Gundogan have jumped ahead of him in the leadership group.
Guardiola used the Carabao Cup tie against Wycombe to give him a much-needed start ahead of crunch games away to Chelsea, PSG and Liverpool in the next fortnight. And while De Bruyne still needs more time than Phil Foden – man-of-the-match in the 6-1 mauling of the Chairboys – to hit top form, City’s manager was encouraged by the running that he saw from a player that will be vital to their chances of success this season.
Phil was injured for two months after the national team. Phil doesn’t need many games to take his rhythm because he’s a guy who lives 24 hours to play football and his physicality is sharp,” said Guardiola.
“Kevin needs to make a proper pre-season and was injured for a long time, after the final of the Champions League from what [Antonio] Rudiger did.
“The European Cup wasn’t perfect and after he had an injury for the national team and he needs to be fit, he needs to be physical in the right rhythm and that’s why it was so good what he did knowing that he’s not in the perfect way or condition but step by step he is better.
“When Kevin’s backwards are good, now is the moment to feel that Kevin starts to be ready. In previous games he played good but his backwards were not good, they stopped. He didn’t run backwards like he runs forward and today he did it for the first time.
“Step by step Kevin will be back because I know he’s an incredibly professional player and he loves to play football so much and we need him so much.”