'You should play your best players'
Sept. 17, 2019
Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson has lambasted Pep Guardiola’s decision to bench Kevin De Bruyne ahead of their shock 3-2 defeat to Norwich City at the weekend.
Manchester City fell to their first defeat of the season – and their first in the competition since January – as they were beaten by the Premier League newboys at Carrow Road.
Kevin De Bruyne was a glaring omission from the starting lineup, and Merson criticised the decision to bench the Belgian midfielder, saying it sent out the wrong signals as City made three changes to their win over Brighton and Hove Albion before the international break.
In his Sky Sports column, he said: “They thought they were turning up to wipe the floor with Norwich, and it backfired. Why didn’t Kevin De Bruyne start? Straight away the manager is sending out a signal to say that this is a walk in the park.
“You should play your best players and get the game done and dusted in 30 minutes, and then De Bruyne could come off. What City do all the time when they have to chase games is end up throwing a load of forwards on who end up getting in each other’s way.”
“Pep is without [Aymeric] Laporte, so he needed to play his best team. [Jurgen] Klopp does as he knows this is a league that can bite you. It’s a big gap now and if Liverpool go to Chelsea this weekend and win, City are in trouble.”
It is easy to see why De Bruyne’s absence from the starting XI was a surprise for Merson – with the 28-year-old in imperious form of late – as the Belgian had notched an assist in every game in the league this season before his fruitless 33-minute cameo at the weekend.
De Bruyne also played a part in all of Belgium’s goals as his country took Scotland apart last week, with the City man helping himself to a goal and three assists at Hampden Park, making his bit-part role for the Norwich game all the more bewildering.
Whether that decision will come to hurt Guardiola and his side in the long run remains to be seen, though that call in particular seems to be one that backfired spectacularly on Saturday night.