GLASGOW • Manchester City did not quite miss Kevin de Bruyne as much as many had expected last season, securing an unprecedented domestic treble despite the midfielder having to spend five months on the sidelines owing to injuries.
Belgium, though, could have done with his presence as he missed their entire Nations League campaign, with Roberto Martinez's men failing to make it to the last four of the tournament.
So the coach was delighted when de Bruyne made his starting line-up in June's Euro 2020 qualifier against Kazakhstan for the first time since last year's World Cup.
He has played a starring role after returning to the international fold, playing in four successive games, and on Monday night, de Bruyne showed why he has to be considered the Red Devils' most important player alongside Eden Hazard.
Hazard was injured for the trip to Glasgow, but his absence went unnoticed as the world's top-ranked team turned in a slick display as they smashed Scotland 4-0.
De Bruyne was at the heart of everything good by the Belgians, who were 3-0 up by half-time.
He became the first player to assist three goals in a single game of this Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, with Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld all scoring.
The 28-year-old also got on the scoresheet in the second half, leaving Martinez to purr that he was "the best playmaker in the world".
The Spaniard told Sky Sports: "He's been very, very good for a long time now. He's in the best moment of his career. This campaign has started with a freshness and real driven feeling of playing at his best and when he does that he's as good as it gets.
"There's no other midfield player that can create space, a playmaker that can execute the passes that he does. It's a joy to see him fitting into the group.
Kevin de Bruyne has had a direct hand in six goals in just four games against Scotland (one goal, five assists), including assisting three goals on Monday night.
"Playmakers dictate the tempo, give perfect passes and they take responsibility. He did all of that.
"It's fair to say today was a big win for us. It's a big, big step. We need to keep getting tighter as a group and keep getting better."
Asked about the form he was in, de Bruyne, who has started in all four of City's Premier League games this term after proving his fitness in pre-season, claimed he was "feeling good".
He added: "I have already played many matches and am starting to come into my rhythm. That is important, because there are still many games to play.
"When your career is over, you can see what you have done. But right now, I just want to win competitions. The faster we do that, the better. That can also be very important for the rest of the season."
With six wins from six games in Group I, the Belgians need just two points from their remaining four matches to be sure of qualifying for Euro 2020 and with whipping boys San Marino next up on Oct 10, that home game looks set to be a night of celebration.