Pep Guardiola believes Kevin De Bruyne will be in Ballon d’Or contention if Manchester City go deep into this season’s Champions League.
De Bruyne produced his latest playmaking masterclass, laying on three assists as Sergio Aguero’s four-goal haul saw the Premier League leaders thrash Leicester City 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Manchester United’s tepid 1-0 defeat at Newcastle United on Sunday left City 16 points to the good at the summit, with a third top-flight title in seven seasons now appearing to be a formality.
Attention turns to Europe’s premier competition this week, with City travelling to face Swiss champions Basel in the last-16 – granting De Bruyne his latest chance to prove he resides among the finest players on the planet.
Having coached Lionel Messi as the Barcelona superstar and Cristiano Ronaldo began their domination of the Ballon d’Or a decade ago, Guardiola was unequivocal when asked whether his 26-year-old midfielder was at a level to be considered for the prestigious individual prize.
“No doubt,” he replied. “It’s not one game, it’s all the season – every three days – playing that way.
“But he knows and everybody knows, to be there you have to win titles and titles and titles. Especially one.
“The way he plays, it is difficult to find one [like De Bruyne] in Europe.
“You have to be there [in the Champions League] to win and if you are not there in the latter stages you will not be nominated.”
City have only progressed beyond the last 16 once in six previous Champions League campaigns – De Bruyne’s excellent winner securing a semi-final spot at Paris Saint-Germain’s expense in 2016 – and memories of last season’s thrilling away goals exit at the hands of Monaco remain fresh for Guardiola.
The former Barca and Bayern Munich boss is satisfied his team will take on Basel in prime form but last month’s collapse to a 4-3 loss at Liverpool also served as a warning sign.
“We arrive good but we have to know that the Champions League is another competition, completely different,” Guardiola explained.
“How you control the emotions and how you control the bad moments; that is the Champions League.
“We scored six goals last season in the last 16 and we were out because we conceded six. We did not quite handle the bad moments.
“It doesn’t matter which team, in the Champions League the bad moments are always going to happen over 180 minutes.
“If the 10 minutes that happened at Anfield happen in the Champions League we are out.
“The players have to understand we are going to concede chances, we are going to concede goals and it is how you handle those situations.
“After that, try to play [and show] who we are, how we have played so far. That is the deal.”
Aguero hitting a purple patch that has seen him leave with the matchball in each of City’s previous two Premier League home matches certainly gives his manager another reason to be optimistic in the pursuit of honours across four fronts.
“Sergio can have not a lot of presence in the game like, for example, in the first half [against Leicester],” Guardiola added.
“It is not easy because they had five guys at the back, four in front – there are almost no spaces.
“But he is always focused and you know, sooner or later, he can score. To score the second goal, it looks easy, but he has to be there.
“After that, after one goal he changed his mood and he was able to score the third one and fourth one that were magnificent.”