Kevin De Bruyne has pinpointed the physical and mental strain of having no real summer break as the reason for Manchester City ’s poor start to the season.
The Blues were one of two Premier League clubs – the other being Manchester United – who had no summer break after the resumption of the season following lockdown meant the European club competitions had to be played to a conclusion in August.
When the new season started, City looked listless and lacking sharpness at times, dropping points frequently – and after nine matches were sitting down in 13 th position, and being ignored as title contenders.
Successive draws against United and West Brom in December had them ninth, but since then a stunning run of 23 wins in 24 games has seen them storm to a 14-point lead at the top of the table, reach the Carabao Cup final, the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
The turnaround was put down to tactical tweaks from Pep Guardiola and his staff which have eased the burden on his players, and on a team meeting led by Fernandinho which rallied the players to the banner.
De Bruyne says the players did not start to get over the flatness induced by the lack of a break until months into the campaign.
Now away on international duty with Belgium, De Bruyne said that he was struggling with mental fatigue in the early part of the campaign, not helped by the arrival of baby daughter Suri in September.
Asked about the mental strain he had felt in Autumn, De Bruyne said: “It’s better now. At the start of the season it was a bit difficult. We also saw it in City where we only had eight days of vacation. And then there was the birth of my little girl. It was a lot for me at the same time.
“But after a few months, we noticed that the pace had returned. We were better physically and mentally.”
De Bruyne perhaps paid for over-working his body with a hamstring injury which saw him miss a month of the season – and now he has a triple bill of games for Belgium, against Wales, Czech Republic and Belarus.
But the 29-year-old says he is feeling fine: “I don’t think these three matches come too early, even if the programme is sometimes a little difficult.
“I came back without physical problems. And since then I have played a lot of matches. I’m in the right rhythm. I’m happy. I feel good.”