De Bruyne a rung below Messi: Pep

MANCHESTER • Kevin de Bruyne is second only to Lionel Messi, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola declared after the Belgian inspired his team to a 4-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday.

De Bruyne put the Premier League leaders ahead with a clever 15th-minute free kick beneath the defensive wall and played a part in goals for Kelechi Iheanacho, Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan.

Guardiola won a glut of trophies with Messi during their time together at Barcelona and in his eyes, the Argentina superstar is the only player who can put de Bruyne in the shade.

"Maybe Messi can sit alone at the table. But that table aside, Kevin can stay there," the Spaniard told reporters at the Etihad Stadium.

"I think he's a special player, an outstanding player. He makes everything. Without the ball he is the first fighter and with the ball he's clear. He sees absolutely everything.

"He decides what you have to do at the right moment every time. Every time he makes the right decision. That's why he is a player at another level."

De Bruyne, 25, was also the Man of the Match in City's 2-1 win at derby rivals Manchester United on Sept 10, scoring their opening goal and helping tee up Iheanacho for what proved to be the winner.

With the win over Bournemouth, City maintained their season's 100 per cent competitive record, breaking a 119-year-old club record. They have now won eight straight matches under Guardiola, surpassing the record of seven set in the Victorian era in 1897.

Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas, now a pundit for BBC, noted after the win: "The way Guardiola has them playing at the moment is astonishing. It's like watching Barca at the Nou Camp."

Guardiola, though, warned against the euphoria.

"I'm happy. We've won a lot of games and people say very nice words. But I know our world, I see that trainers who didn't win are criticised. I know we are going to lose games. Important ones. I need to be stable," he said.

"We know we have a lot of things to get better. Everything starts with that humble attitude. We played like a small team without the ball and that is why I'm so proud. People like it when famous players run for the ball."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'De Bruyne a rung below Messi: Pep'. Print Edition | Subscribe