TOKYO • Manchester City's title rivals will have to contend with a fully fit and highly motivated Kevin de Bruyne this Premier League season after he went on a football detox for much of the summer.
One of the most impressive aspects of City's title-winning campaign last season was that they claimed three domestic trophies without their best player.
De Bruyne, 28, participated in 32 of City's 61 games in all competitions because of two knee injuries and hamstring problems.
After playing in Belgium's internationals against Kazakhstan and Scotland last month, the playmaker trained hard for seven days and then headed to Turkey with his wife and two children to refresh his body and mind.
"I ran the first week after being with the national team and then I did nothing for three weeks," he said. "I just wanted to be away.
"Physically you can be always OK but I think it is more mentally. It is tough to play two years straight and not have a proper break. That's what happened the last two years.
RARING TO GO
I feel good... This season I hope to get less injuries and play a little bit more.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE, Man City midfielder, who was involved in only about half the side's games last season.
"Now I felt for myself it was necessary to just slow it down a little bit and go again in pre-season. I run a lot with the kids anyway, so I burn a lot of energy, but I just wanted to be away from football. I just wanted to enjoy myself a little bit.
"I knew I had enough time now to prepare myself for the season, so that's what I decided to do."
The signs are that de Bruyne's football detox has been extremely beneficial. He has been the star of City's four-match tour to Asia, which culminated in a 3-1 win over Yokohama F Marinos last Saturday.
De Bruyne befuddled his marker with a shimmy before scoring City's opener and set up Raheem Sterling for the second with an incisive pass using the outside of his right boot.
It was the kind of display that fans became accustomed to seeing from the Belgian in the 2017-18 season, when he scored 12 goals and set up 21 as City won the league with a record 100 points.
De Bruyne has starred in friendly matches against West Ham, Wolves and Hong Kong's Kitchee over the past couple of weeks.
"I feel good," he said. " What happened last year happens to everybody. I have been a professional for 11 years now and had one season where I had some injuries.
"This season I hope to get less injuries and play a little bit more."
De Bruyne is likely to benefit from the arrival of Rodri, the record £63 million (S$106.5 million) signing from Atletico Madrid.
The Spain midfielder is set to start in the Community Shield against Liverpool on Sunday as Fernandinho has been given an extended break after his duties with Brazil at the Copa America.
Fernandinho missed 15 matches last season because of knee and thigh injuries so the hope is that Rodri, 23, will be a more reliable option for Pep Guardiola this season.
"It's a position that is really difficult to find (a suitable option) but I think they definitely found the right man," de Bruyne said.
His former City captain and teammate Vincent Kompany meanwhile, is searching for a winning formula. His Anderlecht side were beaten 2-1 at home by Oostende in their opening league match of the season on Sunday.
The 33-year-old, who started the game, was appointed player-manager of his former club in the summer.
THE TIMES, LONDON