If Manchester City hoped their maiden Champions League final would be unforgettable, Kevin de Bruyne admitted his memories of a painful night are hazy.
De Bruyne captained City against Chelsea in Porto in May. Rather than ending with him lifting the trophy, his evening was curtailed with the Belgian suffering a fractured nose and eye socket when Antonio Rudiger crashed into him.
“There’s not a lot of memories,” the midfielder said. “I remember some chances in the first half and the [Chelsea] goal. After the collision I don't remember a lot. I don't remember how I got into the hospital on the night itself. I remember going back in the morning to the team hotel at 10am still with my City kit on.”
De Bruyne did an admirable job of remaining philosophical about the biggest game of his club career. “It is sport, it happens,” he reflected. “It's not the best thing that ever happened but you go on with it.”
His vagueness extended to a meeting with City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak the day after Chelsea’s 1-0 win. “I think he spoke to the team in the evening or the morning, I’ve no idea,” De Bruyne added. “He just said he was happy with what I contributed to the team and in the year.
“There was not a lot of people in a good mood, I felt strange at the time with everything that happened. It was night to hear that from the chairman because it was a big blow for everybody.”
Part of Al-Mubarak’s message was that City would be back challenging again for the trophy. De Bruyne is aware of the expectations outside the Etihad Stadium.
“People expect you to win the Champions League. Does it define your legacy?” he said. “For people outside, maybe. I'm happy with what we've done as a club for the last six years.”
They have made a mixed start to the new continental campaign, beating Leipzig 6-3 in a hugely entertaining opener before playing well but losing 2-0 to the 2020 finalists Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG 2 Manchester City 0: player ratings
They enter Tuesday's game with Club Brugge behind the Belgian champions, who have surprised by drawing with PSG and then beating RB Leipzig. “A top side,” said Pep Guardiola.
It should be a special night for De Bruyne. The former Genk player scored a hat-trick away at Brugge in 2011 but since his 2012 move to Chelsea his outings in his homeland have been confined to his country’s colours. “I'm excited to go back home,” he said. “It is the first time to play at home except with the national team since I left.”
De Bruyne had a delayed start to the season, playing 12 minutes at Tottenham before resting an ankle problem he sustained at Euro 2020. Now he has scored in his last two games and Guardiola feels he is getting closer to his best.
“Apart from the goals and the assists, it is the dynamic, the rhythm, the pace you get when you play regularly and Kevin needs to be fit,” he said. “It is how he attacks the space, how he moves and that is how he is getting better.”
The importance of match sharpness means De Bruyne understands the frustrations of Raheem Sterling, who has struggled for starts in the Premier League. “Some players need more rhythm and maybe Raz needs that more. I need that also,” he said.
Sterling faces more competition tonight as Guardiola faces a decision whether to pick Gabriel Jesus. The forward, plus goalkeeper Ederson, went straight to Belgium after playing in Brazil’s win over Uruguay on Friday, but it will also mean they do not need to quarantine when they return to England.