Kevin De Bruyne v Jordan Henderson: The key battle in Manchester City v Liverpool
By Matt Cheetham
Last Updated: 09/09/17 11:46am
Who will come out on top between Kevin De Bruyne and Jordan Henderson in Manchester City's clash with Liverpool? We take a look.
Two of the Premier League's most lethal attacks meet on Saturday as Manchester City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Pulling the strings for the two sides will be Kevin De Bruyne - orchestrating City's attacks from a deeper berth this season - and Jordan Henderson - the pace setter in Jurgen Klopp's energetic approach.
Following the arrival of Bernardo Silva and the impact of Gabriel Jesus, the array of attacking talent at Pep Guardiola's disposal must draw envy from most Premier League managers. How best to blend them all together, though, is perhaps a more complicated matter.
So far, Guardiola has opted to unleash De Bruyne in a deeper role, as shown by City's average positions in their last game at Bournemouth. The difference appears subtle compared to last season, but instead of having between one and three players ahead of him, the Belgian is suddenly playing with between four and six.
The vast majority of Premier League viewers will be fully aware of De Bruyne's ability by now. He finished last season with 18 assists, the most in the Premier League and a single-season record for City.
He also recorded the second-most chances created (103) and the quality of those chances led the way when calculated by Opta's Expected Assists.
This is perhaps the thinking behind his positional shift, which has unsurprisingly led to a swing in De Bruyne's numbers. Opta's sequence metric demonstrates his importance, showing him to be more involved than any other team-mate this season. There's also been a notable difference in his individual return.
Most sequences involved in - Premier League 2017/18
|Kevin de Bruyne||Man City||199|
|David Silva||Man City||189|
What is a sequence?
Sequences are defined as passages of play which belong to one team and are ended by defensive actions, stoppages in play or a shot. Involvement refers to the player having a touch at some point in the sequence.
Kevin de Bruyne's increased involvement
|Sequences per 90 minutes||57.5||66.3|
Additionally, De Bruyne has been making 40 per cent more passes and taking over 20 per cent more touches this season, and that inflated return doesn't seem to be a result of passes around the half-way line, either.
In fact, he is passing more in the final third. His total of 46 final-third passes against Brighton was higher than in any game last season - suggesting he now has a more dangerous platform to operate from.
Kevin de Bruyne - Premier League 2017/18
|Stats per 90 mins||2016/17||2017/18|
|Passes ending in final third||31.5||38.3|
For Liverpool to succeed on Saturday, they must find a way of punctuating the continuous passages of play controlled by De Bruyne - a task falling under the remit of their captain, Henderson.
Jordan Henderson - Premier League 2017/18
|Passes into final third||48||1st|
|Passes ending in final third||69||1st|
The former Sunderland midfielder is crucial to his side in both facets of the game. In possession, he's the focal point who already made far more passes than any of his team-mates this season.
But his off-the-ball contribution will be even more important against De Bruyne. The Liverpool man has covered more ground than any team-mate this season - and more than 339 of the 346 players to play in the Premier League so far.
Henderson has also recorded more tackles and interceptions than any Liverpool midfielder, regularly mopping up possession and springing attacks.
Liverpool tackles and interceptions - Premier League 2017/18
|Player||Tackles + interceptions|
That combination of attributes should allow Henderson to play a combative role on Saturday, staying close to his opposite man and hurrying him as he did last season.
In Liverpool's 1-0 win over City in December, De Bruyne failed to create a single chance from open play, the only time he failed to do so in a 90-minute performance all season, while his 57 touches were also his fewest in a full game.
Liverpool recoveries - Premier League 2017/18
Henderson was a major factor in that before he was forced off with an injury in the second half, and it was no coincidence that Liverpool struggled to contain De Bruyne when Henderson was absent for the return game in March. In that 1-1 draw, the Belgian created a game-high four chances and recorded 99 touches.
Liverpool remain unbeaten against Manchester City under Klopp, winning three of four fixtures. If Henderson can frustrate De Bruyne as he did in December last season, his side have a strong chance of extending that run.