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If you want a direct answer to that question: he definitely has a case.
The thing is, players on so-called “Superteams” are hard to judge. A Golden State Warrior will find it distinctly harder to win an MVP because of their companions, and any player who has Lionel Messi on his side often has his own brilliance qualified by the presence of the Argentinian.
Manchester City are yet to actually win anything, but I have no issue with calling them a superteam right now. Their brilliance in the Premier League is unchallenged in recent memory. In Europe, they are winning without breaking into a trot, while maintaining the Pep Guardiola swagger.
Kevin De Bruyne is the heart of it. The Belgian leads the Premier League in xGChain by far.
That is the number that tells us the total xG of every possession that player is involved in. It is in part testament to his durability – he has barely missed a minute this season – but equally a sign of what he is to this City side.
Change it to xGChain per 90, and De Bruyne is at 1.06. Only five Premier League players with over 500 minutes are higher than that, four of which are De Bruyne’s team-mates.
Turn to xA – expected assists – per 90 and De Bruyne is just as impressive. Leroy Sane and Mesut Ozil are the only superior Premier League players, and that’s only by 0.01 and 0.02 respectively.
Only one La Liga player has a better xA per 90 than De Bruyne. That’s Lionel Messi. One Bundesliga player with over 600 minutes is above that 0.39 mark. That’s Thomas Muller.
In Ligue 1, no player outside Paris Saint Germain beats De Bruyne in xGChain, and only Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin are superior in xA per 90.
This is where xGBuildup per 90 tells us so much about Manchester City’s main man. This number is the xGChain for moves where the player does not have the shot or the key pass.
We have seen the company De Bruyne is keeping as a creator. The best offensive players in Europe this season are struggling to keep up with his productivity. None of those players rival De Bruyne in the build-up, however.
|xGBuildup per 90|
|Kevin De Bruyne||
That figure is so high partly because of the quality of De Bruyne’s team-mates. While he is the heartbeat of this City team, he is not the only player capable of splitting a defence.
It does, however, also show that his influence goes far beyond the final third, which makes his creative output all the more remarkable. De Bruyne is the king of the second assist, leading the top five leagues in that category.
Okay, so the numbers can only tell you so much.
De Bruyne does benefit from being on such a good team, and we can view his results through that prism. Guardiola has clicked his magic fingers and made De Bruyne an immensely effective player defensively as well.
Often leading the press, De Bruyne is no luxury number 10 like some of his contemporaries. He has enabled Guardiola to name himself, Fernandinho and David Silva as a midfield.
Just 18 months ago that would have seemed like middle third insanity, but the adaptation of De Bruyne’s game – as well as Silva’s – has been the cornerstone of City’s success.
The question to ask when passing judgement is: Are City a superteam because of De Bruyne or is he simply benefitting from a team far too good for their opponents?
The answer is somewhere in the middle. De Bruyne’s numbers would not be so eye-openingly brilliant on a different team, but very few players would be doing what he’s doing even in this side. Football’s fluidity makes it near-impossible to separate individual and team brilliance.
Comparisons to other current players or past individual seasons are very subjective. One thing is for sure; De Bruyne is producing like a forward, while contributing defensively like a box-to-box midfielder.
There’s a strong case to be made that De Bruyne is having the best individual season in Premier League history.
(Stats per Understat for players over 500 league minutes unless mentioned)
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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