Pep Guardiola has admitted Kevin De Bruyne is close to irreplaceable but wants Manchester City to draw on team “charisma” to make up for the absence of the midfielder, who has been ruled out for up to six weeks.
De Bruyne suffered a hamstring injury in Wednesday’s win over Aston Villa and will be unavailable for up to 10 games. These include matches against their title rivals Liverpool and Manchester United, and the Champions League last-16 opening leg at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
City were also without De Bruyne for a closing phase of the 2018-19 title triumph because of injury. Guardiola was asked whether this offered confidence his absence can be overcome.
“We’re going to miss him a lot,” the manager said. “He’s almost irreplaceable with the quality he has. He was nominated the best player in the Premier League last season so we know how good he is.
“But, at the same time, if you want to win important titles you need something that is irreplaceable too – the charisma that the team can have, the commitment, the relationship between all the stars in the locker room. You cannot win titles without respect between the players. On and off the pitch, they are not friends but almost friends [and so] fight together. Without that, you cannot achieve titles.
“Quality does not win titles. It wins games and more games but titles are won because there is something the captains build for the team and everyone accepts it. That’s when you can win a lot of games in a row and titles,” the City manager continued. “We’re going to miss him and we’re going to wait for him – like we have Sergio [Agüero] for almost one year; the best striker we have in our club, an absolute legend and maybe one of the best strikers in the whole history of the Premier League, and we moved forward without him.
“We have to find a solution. We went to Stamford Bridge and won 3-1 [on 3 January] with 14 players in the first team but the players were together and moved forward. That is what we have to do. As a manager and as a backroom room we have to find the solution. And the player who is going to play in Kevin’s position we have to use the skills this player has to allow us to continue to play the way we do. We’ve done it in the past and it’s what we’re going to do in the future.”
Guardiola also said he would be behind a European super league, after plans for one were leaked. The plans are for a competition that would replace the Champions League but not domestic leagues. “I think maybe the Europa League [super league] substituting the Champions League would be better,” Guardiola said. “I want to protect the local leagues. I like to play against Leicester, Brighton, Burnley, Arsenal, West Bromwich, Liverpool. I like to play against Barcelona, Madrid, Juventus, Mönchengladbach too.”
Guardiola was clear that he favours fewer matches overall. “All I can say is let the players breathe a bit more, to recover better and make a better performance to make more spectators come back when they return to the stadiums or in front of the TV. More goals and action to make our sport better. This will only happen if players are fitter and feel more comfortable with the amount of games.”