Kevin De Bruyne: Dances with Wolves

Which player in the top five European leagues has provided most assists, has contributed nine goals, has averaged 20 good actions per game in building his team’s attacks, has provided a goal scoring threat from set pieces and is equally comfortable whether attacking through the centre or down both flanks?

After spending £7 million on the player and receiving £18 million in return, Chelsea may have believed that they had done a great deal, but after his performances this season, it is Vfl Wolfsburg and Kevin De Bruyne who have had the last laugh.

With the demise of Borussia Dortmund, it appeared that the procession to the Bundesliga title would be a formality for Bayern Munich, with the Bavarians unbeaten in the first half of the season, winning 14 of 17 games. But in their first game back after the winter break, they were given a wake-up call, being convincingly outplayed in a 4-1 defeat to nearest challengers Vfl Wolfsburg, with two goals from Dutch striker Bas Dost and two from De Bruyne, with three of the goals coming from lightning counter attacks.

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With Wolves having won 11 of their 13 games in the Volkswagen Arena, they remain the only team unbeaten at home in the Bundesliga, with their four defeats all coming away from home and all by a single goal.

Its six years since the team from Lower Saxony won the Bundesliga, changing coaches on four times and occasionally flirting with relegation. The arrival of Dieter Hecking in January 2013, has seen an upturn in the team’s fortune, as the former Hannover manager made important additions to his squad, including Daniel Caligiuri from Freiburg, Ivan Perišić from Borussia Dortmund, Aaron Hunt from Werder Bremen and the influential Luiz Gustavo from Bayern Munich.

But it has been the performances from De Bruyne which have taken Wolfsburg from the Europa League places to the team most likely to challenge Bayern Munich.

Apart from his nine goals, De Bruyne has provided 16 assists, equal with Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas; but when delving deeper into the data it is apparent that there is much more to the young Belgian’s play than just goals and assists.

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De Bruyne has been one of the key players in both starting his team’s attacking moves and in the attacking third of the field. During the early phase of the attack he performed substantially more good attacking actions (averaged 20.2) per game than any of his teammates; averaging almost 13 good passes and making close to three good dribbles per game.

In the attacking third, he was in the top 3 Wolfsburg players for most delivered ‘good passes’ and performed ‘good dribbles’, he also averaged the second highest number of good crosses per game.

Perhaps most significantly De Bruyne is able to deliver quality down either flank as well as through the centre; in other words a player who provides a threat in any area of the field.

With yet another string to his bow, De Bruyne delivers dangerous set pieces. He took half of Wolfsburg’s corner kicks and a third of their free kick crosses, with 20% of his corners and 40% of his free kicks leading to direct goal scoring chances. Although Brazilian centre back Naldo took most of Wolfsburg’s direct shot free kicks, scoring with two of his five efforts, De Bruyne scored from one of his three free kick shots.

Although an attacking midfielder, De Bruyne attempted more than twice as many shots on goal from open play situations than any of his teammates, with just over half of all of his efforts being on target. A third of his shots came from outside the penalty area, with De Bruyne scoring two of Wolfsburg’s six goals from outside the area.

With his devastating pace, De Bruyne has been the key to Wolfsburg’s 10 counter attacking goals; he has made a significant contribution to the 15 goals that the team has scored from open play crosses and has played a role in the six goals originating from individual dribbles.

Whilst his defensive contribution may be minimal, the 23 year old has become one of Europe’s hottest talents and in the summer is likely to be the target from some of the continent’s top clubs.

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