Wolfsburg’s 4-1 demolition of Bayern Munich at the end of January sent shock waves through the football world, announcing Wolfsburg to the neutrals who hadn’t yet noticed their success this year. Despite a Bas Dost double, including a beautifully ambiguous intentional volley, one man stole the show – Kevin De Bruyne, his assist and brace exemplifying his role as the star man of the team.
Compared to the Bundesliga’s top creators, De Bruyne has more than held his own this season. His 0.62 assists per 90 is bested only by Franck Ribery, who has a far smaller sample size. His goalscoring (0.35 Non-Penalty Goals Per 90) is similar impressive. Of the league’s top 10 assisters, only the Bavarian trio have scored at a higher rate. Considering Bayern score 0.5 more goals per game than Wolfsburg, it’s fair to say they have a bit of an advantage.
25 of De Bruyne’s appearances in all competitions this season have been in an AMC/10 role, allowing him to be the creative hub of the team. In these matches, he’s managed 12 goals and 15 assists, which is noticeably more effective than his 2 goals and 6 assists in 11 games in other positions (mainly as an attacking left midfielder).
In this central role, De Bruyne’s exceptional passing is utilized best – his 3.1 Key Passes per 90 in the league is the best of any of the aforementioned sample. Arsène Wenger once spoke of preferential vision in creators, where they see better creative options down one side to the other, mainly due to habitual cutting in onto a stronger foot. Pires was a “normal player on the right” but “world-class from the left”, for example. Due to ambidexterity, De Bruyne is perfectly suited to the middle. He can play passes to either side and isn’t limited to habit, also drifting wide to whip in dangerous crosses.
De Bruyne’s performances over the two legs against Inter Milan this month were a perfect example of his role within the Wolfsburg team. In the first leg, he pops up all over the pitch, spreading the play and trying to make explosive runs behind Inter’s defence. His corner (3:00 in the video) is perfectly in the path of Naldo, who eagerly heads it in. When crosses come in, he acts like a shadow striker behind Bas Dost, holding his run to create a second option (this can be seen in the goal at around 4:50). KDB tops off an exceptional performance with a beautiful free kick to score Wolfsburg’s 3rd (6:30).
In the 24th minute of the second leg (1:10 in the second video), his perfectly weighted cross from the left hand side is bundled in by Daniel Caligiuri. Over the two legs, De Bruyne added a couple of assists and a goal to his name as Wolfsburg marched calmly into the Europa League’s quarterfinals.
KDB’s radar as of 13th March 2015, via @mixedknuts
Many may say that Chelsea made a mistake in selling Wolfsburg’s new star, but Mourinho’s system is extremely particular and that a player doesn’t suit it isn’t the same as him being brandished as a bad player by the club (cc: Andre Schurrle, who has also joined Wolfsburg).
In the last week, speculation links De Bruyne’s future with both Manchester clubs, a return to Chelsea and most recently Bayern Munich. Personally, I don’t see him leaving Wolfsburg for at least the immediate future – the club has no money problems and will be spurred on by their climb up the Bundesliga table this year (if you only looked at matches between the league’s Top 5, Wolfsburg would be top of the table). They, and the rest of the Bundesliga, know that the Belgian playmaker is the galvanizing force in their exciting team, and the neutral will hope that he doesn’t get sucked up by the Bavarian talent vacuum any time soon.