De Bruyne injury: Can Foden or Diaz replace Man City playmaker?
Kevin De Bruyne being ruled out for three months due to a knee ligament injury leaves Premier League champions Manchester City weakened in the precise area where their manager likes to show his strength.
Pep Guardiola packed his Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides with creative midfield talent and De Bruyne underlined his reputation as one of the best around by bringing the Catalan's vision to life in Manchester in 2017-18.
De Bruyne's setback, however, could create opportunities for other players - including highly rated youngsters Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz.
With the help of Opta data, Omnisport assesses how five City midfielders could step up in the Belgium playmaker's absence.
Often described as City's greatest ever player, David Silva will likely take on more influence and responsibility with De Bruyne missing. The midfielder, who this week retired from international football, is long-established as a key cog in City's relentless passing machine. Silva scored 10 goals and provided 14 assists last season, while a superb dribble success rate of 77.78 demonstrates his quality on the ball. Silva and De Bruyne dominated in tandem last term, but the 32-year-old is more than capable of brilliance on his own. The man nicknamed "El Mago" missed last weekend's 2-0 win at Arsenal but the Spaniard is expected to return to action against Huddersfield Town on Sunday.
Germany international Ilkay Gundogan has declared himself "ready" to step up in De Bruyne's absence and, should Pep Guardiola be tempted by a safe option he could be set for an extended run in the team. Gundogan has featured 50 times for City since the start of last season but started only 30 of those games. A passing accuracy of 91.71 in those appearances proves Gundogan can be trusted to retain possession but he lacks the peerless vision of the Belgium star. Gundogan has only created 51 chances too, lagging well behind Silva's brilliant return of 91.
A sparkling performance in the Community Shield defeat of Chelsea suggested 2018-19 could be Bernardo Silva's year. The Portugal international was not a guaranteed starter in his first season of Premier League football after joining from Monaco, but he has still contributed nine goals and 11 assists in all competitions. Bernardo Silva typically operated as part of City's attacking trio when he played last season but has taken to the central playmaking where De Bruyne excels this time around. He has created more than two chances per game for City, so he could be the creative option, plus his fine first-time strike against Arsenal last weekend showed a keen eye for goal.
City fans will not have wanted De Bruyne to be injured, but they may welcome the chance to see more of rising star Foden, who is considered one of the Premier League's most exciting teenagers. Foden has made 11 appearances since the start of last term and the 18-year-old has not looked overawed playing alongside his illustrious colleagues. Foden started in the Community Shield - setting up Sergio Aguero for City's opening goal - and he looks ready for more game-time during 2018-19. His dribble success rate of 72.2 per cent narrowly eclipses Bernardo Silva's 69.2 per cent return.
Perhaps just behind Foden in the pecking order is Brahim Diaz, who started once in 2017-18. Diaz is yet to score or record an assist for the club, but Opta data shows he has taken over three shots per game on average, indicating a willingness to go for goal. His fleeting first-team appearances have come as a forward but he played alongside Foden in the attacking central midfield roles during the pre-season tour of the United States. The 19-year-old is in the final year of his City contract but could get the chance to show he deserves a bumper new deal with De Bruyne set for a spell on the sidelines.