LONDON – Kevin de Bruyne has shuttled up and down with duty in a single corner of Wembley, bathed in bright sun. She stretches her hamstrings and her calf. He made sure his ankles were beautiful and loose and then, with a lot of time and care, made sure his ribbons were tight. He wanted everything to feel right when the call came.
It never did. With Manchester City trailing by two goals to Liverpool, a place in the FA Cup final and a desire to complete domestic and European treble slipping from their hands, City manager Pep Guardiola did not call on his outstanding playmaker de Bruyne. The Belgian spends a few minutes in the sun, alternating his gaze between the game in front of him and Guardiola, and then returns to his seat in the shadows.
Whether de Bruyne knew it or not, Guardiola considered nothing else. He would have liked to have de Bruyne on the field – or, indeed, to field him from the start – but he sincerely felt that he could not.
De Bruyne had a four-inch scar on his leg during City’s Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. It was discontinued before he returned to England, and he was prescribed a course of antibiotics to prevent infection. It started healing. Introducing him to a game three days later, however, would risk reopening the wound. “Then we’ll lose him for another match,” said Guardiola. “In the end, I didn’t want to take that risk.”
It is hardly surprising why Guardiola was a little quiet, exactly, why de Bruyne was sent to the touchline to warm up, because he clearly had no desire to be allowed into the game.
Perhaps it was a psychological ploy to benefit his teammates, they tried to build on Jack Grillish’s second-half goal and Liverpool wanted to further reduce an impressive three-goal lead established in the first half. Or maybe Guardiola’s Liverpool opponent, J করারrgen Klopp, to make him think that De Bruyne, arguably the most creative player in English soccer, suddenly made him think what he could do when he suddenly came on the field.
Either way, these teams will face the biggest challenge in the next six weeks as De Bruyne is portrayed as a full-fledged theoretical threat.
Both are not only proud but have reached some limits – City are still hoping to win both the Premier League and the Champions League, Liverpool are now in contention to complete the four available trophies – due to the skill of the players and their coaches, only because they are the most talented team. No, the most intense, the most intelligent and the most industrious.
What unfolds now and at the end of the season, though, will depend on endurance as much as affordability. The line between absolute success and relative failure is like a battle of wits. Who will win the Premier League and, presumably, the Champions League will determine which of them will rise the most, but which of them will go the deepest.
This is especially true for teams that compete on multiple fronts. Both Guardiola and Klopp suffer under the pressure that looking too far ahead can only lead to destruction, allowing thoughts to flow in the direction of conjecture that can only deviate from the concrete and the real.
But every lineup choice, for both, now and at the end of the season, now has to take into account the challenges ahead, not just the task at hand.
At Wembley, Guardiola named De Bruyne as an alternative, despite knowing he would not play. There he joined Ilke Gundogan and Imerick Laporte, both of whom were in the same boat, were dropped from the game so that they could probably be found later in the Premier League against Brighton or so they would not be relegated. They have a chance to play in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid in 10 days.
Strange as it may seem, a team that has spent a decade or more building one of the two most expensive squads of all time – a team that includes the most expensive player in British history among its options – has a list of City’s available players in particular. Not “long”, as Guardiola puts it, nowadays.
“It’s okay if everyone is fit,” he said. The subtext, of course, is when injury and fatigue are not set. Although Guardiola City prefers a concentrated, high-caliber squad for a club with a long-term vision – not to mention its incomparable assets – which is a little more surprising than that; It’s hard to imagine that the situation won’t be corrected in the summer transfer window.
Klopp took the opposite approach. The Liverpool squad, strengthened by the arrival of Luis Diaz in January and somewhat uncomfortable with injuries in recent months, is well-equipped to rest some of his key players against Benfica in the Champions League last week – facing a tough battle with Atletico Madrid. Was – and still is. This, in turn, allowed him to name a full-strength party at Wembley on Saturday, a fact that probably proved the determining factor.
The catch, of course, is that Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and the rest have just 72 hours before they face Manchester United in the Premier League, with the Mercedes derby against Everton stretched to the horizon. Their legs will be a little more tired for these games because of their hard work against City.
Klopp, in that sense, took the same risk as Guardiola; After all, sticking is no less a gamble than twisting. This is where both coaches and both teams find themselves: weighing the risks and rewards, hoping they get it right, knowing that everything is in line.