February 25, 2024

Haaland, De Bruyne returns prime Man City to conquer Europe again

MANCHESTER: The return of the Champions League comes at the perfect time for Manchester City with Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne’s comebacks from injury making the holders look formidable.

Pep Guardiola’s men head to FC Copenhagen for the first leg of their last 16 tie today on the back of 10 consecutive wins in all competitions.

A run that began while Haaland and De Bruyne were still sidelined by injury has only gained momentum since they made their return.

Haaland scored his first goals since November as City eventually broke down Everton to win 2-0 at the Etihad on Saturday.

De Bruyne had started on the bench with the Champions League in mind as Guardiola manages the Belgian’s minutes after his season began with a hamstring tear that ruled him out for five months.

But the 32-year-old has looked like his old self since returning with seven goal contributions in eight games this season.

De Bruyne was the provider for Haaland’s second goal on Saturday and the Norwegian is delighted to have his delivery to feed off once more.

“I try to do the same runs with everyone, but with him it’s a bit more like I know I’m going to get it perfect. I know the ball is going to come,” said Haaland.

“You can see I don’t even look at the ball for two seconds when he has it because I’m focusing on running towards the goal.

“That’s the difference, nothing bad towards other players, but it’s the small difference of knowing that the ball will come.”

City became just the second English side to ever win the treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup last season.

Guardiola scoffed at the suggestion they could defend all three earlier in the campaign, but they remain well on course to do so.

The Premier League title race is fascinatingly poised with the top three separated by just two points, but City will edge ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal should they win their game in hand against Brentford next week.

A trip to Luton awaits in the FA Cup fifth round and Copenhagen are not expected to pose many problems to the English champions despite their success against the other side of Manchester this season.

The Danes stunned Manchester United 4-3 in November as the Red Devils crashed out in the group stage.

But City are a different beast as they look to become only the second club in the Champions League era to retain the trophy, after Real Madrid’s three-in-a-row between 2016 and 2018. — AFP

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

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