Kevin De Bruyne warning to Manchester City rivals: We're close to full strength

Midfielder returned to starting line-up for win over Burnley that also saw Erling Haaland back on the pitch after injury

Kevin De Bruyne made his first start for Manchester City since the opening weekend of the Premier League season against Burnley. Getty Images
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Kevin De Bruyne believes the Manchester City squad is in a great place heading into the business end of the season.

The Belgian playmaker made his first start since August in Wednesday's 3-1 win over Burnley while defender John Stones also returned to the starting XI.

Meanwhile, top goalscorer Erling Haaland made his first appearance since fracturing his foot in the defeat at Aston Villa on December 6 when he came on as a 71st-minute substitute.

Now the only remaining player manager Pep Guardiola is waiting for to return from injury is defender Manuel Akanji as City target a repeat of last season's treble.

This month, City face five games in the Premier League, they tackle FC Copenhagen in the Champions League last-16 first leg in Denmark and take on Luton Town at Kenilworth Road in the FA Cup fifth round.

And the fact the squad is almost back to full strength is music to De Bruyne's ears. “I think it's really good,” said the 32-year-old, who set up one of Julian Alvarez's two goals in a comfortable victory over the relegation-threatened Clarets at the Etihad Stadium.

“I think if Manu [Akanji] comes back – and I think it'll be soon – it's going to be the first time in the year everybody's fit, so that can only help us because the schedule is getting a little bit harder and harder in the next weeks.

“To have everybody available can only help the team being competitive. Even if you change [the team], there's big stars sitting on the bench and you can rotate.”

City are also now gaining momentum with eight wins on the spin and 10 in their last 11 games across all competitions.

They already have both the Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup crowns safely in the trophy cabinet this season as they continue the hunt for three more trophies.

But City remain five points behind Premier League table-toppers Liverpool, albeit with a game in hand on Jurgen Klopp's side, and De Bruyne will be taking nothing for granted.

“I just think there is that feeling that whenever we lose a game, we're falling too far behind,” he added. “And it's the same in the cup competitions – if you lose, you're out.

“So we're in a good moment, people are coming back, but we don't get complacent.”

De Bruyne also paid tribute to birthday boy Alvarez who has stepped up this season in the absence of De Bruyne and Haaland.

The Argentinian World Cup winner struck twice in the space of six minutes midway through the first half, with Rodri completing their scoring just after the break.

“He's been really good,” said De Bruyne. “He's played a lot in the midfield this year and that's not really his position, but he did a great job because obviously we had a lot of injuries.

“He's been banging in goals, giving assists, so he's probably happy. He's doing really good.”

The brace took Alvarez to 15 goals for the season and Guardiola admitted his form has given him a selection headache.

“For his age, for the numbers in the Premier League, for what he gives to all the team it is unbelievable,” Guardiola said.

“He’s a world champion playing alongside [Lionel] Messi, [Angel] Di Maria and Enzo Fernandez. If you are not good you cannot play in that team.

“He can play in three different positions and have an incredible sense with the intensity to run. He’s really good.”

But while Alvarez has enjoyed his time in the spotlight, Guardiola admitted the return of De Bruyne – and 19-goal striker Haaland – was clearly a big boost for the team.

“It's a long time, five months [De Bruyne] didn't play,” said the Catalan coach after the win against Burnley. “He comes back with energy. He played really, really good. Him and Erling are going to help us this part of the season.”

Updated: February 01, 2024, 5:22 PM