This season was going all too swimmingly for Manchester City, wasn’t it?
The Cityzens have the Premier League title all but sewn up, they’re already planning the open-top bus parade for the Carabao Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, and Pep Guardiola has finally got over his Champions League wobbles.
Then, disaster struck.
And as far as disasters go, this one was just about as bad as they get. Two minutes into the second half of their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, Kevin De Bruyne hit the turf with a look of frustration and anguish etched across his face.
The Belgian star had clearly felt some discomfort in his ankle, and it was enough to force him to end his Wembley outing extremely prematurely. He traipsed off the pitch, his cheeks bright red with exasperation and disappointment.
With his departure, arrived the end of Man City’s dreams of an unprecedented quadruple. Guardiola threw on Phil Foden – who did plenty right – but it wasn’t enough to stop the heavily rotated Cityzens from slipping to a 1-0 defeat to the Blues, allowing the west Londoners a second crack at the famous trophy in two years.
Judging by the Spaniard’s team selection, he probably wouldn’t have been too downbeat, had you told him before kick-off that his men would fall to Chelsea and crash out of the tournament. After all, the FA Cup ranks third in their list of priorities, behind the Champions League and Premier League.
Had you whispered in his ear that De Bruyne would limp off with a worrying ankle injury, less than two weeks before the first leg of their European super-tie with Paris Saint-Germain however, he’d have turned a ghostly white.
Although the midfield maestro wasn’t on the boil before going off on Saturday, his general impact on the team is undeniable, and there is not one player who is more irreplaceable in Guardiola’s setup. No one in the world can play the role that De Bruyne performs, let alone anyone in Manchester.
The Man City boss attempted to fill the void by introducing Foden and then Ilkay Gundogan, a usual starter in this side. But neither could help the losing semi-finalists muster a shot of any real note, as they entered a frustrating maze of sideways passes and pointless, speculative crosses.
It wasn’t to be for the Citizens, and that can happen on any given day in the world of football, particularly against a team with the quality and new-found defensive stability of Chelsea.
But that day cannot arrive under the bright lights of the Champions League, when the English giants travel to the French capital on April 28. Guardiola needs his men to be firing on all cylinders at the front and the back, but first and foremost, he needs his best men on the field.
It’ll be a race against time and a nervy wait to understand the verdict and severity of De Bruyne’s ankle injury, but anything remotely serious could rule him out of the Citizens’ most important stretch of games in the season.
From April 25 to May 4, Man City will play an EFL Cup final and both legs of the Champions League semi-final, one of the most pivotal ties in the club’s recent history. Entering those battles without their leader and talisman could just bring this promising season to a miserable and all too familiar end.