Haaland, De Bruyne returns prime Man City to conquer Europe again

The return of the Champions League comes at the perfect time for Manchester City with Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne’s comebacks from injury making the holders look formidable.Pep Guardiola’s men head to FC Copenhagen for the first leg of their last 16 tie on Tuesday on the back of 10 consecutive wins in all competitions.A run that began while Haaland and De Bruyne were still sidelined by injury has only gained momentum since they made their return.

Haaland scored his first goals since November as City eventually broke down Everton to win 2-0 at the Etihad on Saturday.

De Bruyne had started on the bench with the Champions League in mind as Guardiola manages the Belgian’s minutes after his season began with a hamstring tear that ruled him out for five months.

But the 32-year-old has looked like his old self since returning with seven goal contributions in eight games this season.

De Bruyne was the provider for Haaland’s second goal on Saturday and the Norwegian is delighted to have his delivery to feed off once more.

“I try to do the same runs with everyone, but with him it’s a bit more like I know I’m going to get it perfect. I know the ball is going to come,” said Haaland.

“You can see I don’t even look at the ball for two seconds when he has it because I’m focusing on running towards the goal.

“That’s the difference, nothing bad towards other players, but it’s the small difference of knowing that the ball will come.”

A double treble?

City became just the second English side to ever win the treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup last season.

Guardiola scoffed at the suggestion they could defend all three earlier in the campaign, but they remain well on course to do so.

The Premier League title race is fascinatingly poised with the top three separated by just two points, but City will edge ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal should they win their game in hand against Brentford next week.

A trip to Luton awaits in the FA Cup fifth round and Copenhagen are not expected to pose many problems to the English champions despite their success against the other side of Manchester this season.

The Danes stunned Manchester United 4-3 in November as the Red Devils crashed out in the group stage.

But City are a different beast as they look to become only the second club in the Champions League era to retain the trophy, after Real Madrid’s three-in-a-row between 2016 and 2018.

Guardiola has a fully fit squad to choose and a wealth of options at his disposal.

Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and Josko Gvardiol started alongside De Bruyne on the bench at the weekend.

Phil Foden believes he is in the form of his life after netting a hat-trick in last week’s 3-1 win at Brentford.

And midfield anchor Rodri has not been on the losing side in 51 games for club and country stretching back to March last year.

All of City’s three league defeats this season came when the Spaniard was suspended in the autumn.

But in keeping with their best seasons under Guardiola, City are rounding into form as the business end of the campaign approaches.

After making their Champions League breakthrough last season, even the best that Europe has to offer will do well to stop them lifting the trophy once more at Wembley on June 1.


© Agence France-Presse

Photo: Twitter @DxBruyneSZN

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Dylan Johnson