The Belgian midfielder struck twice and masterminded a demolition derby as Manchester United were thrashed 4-1 to keep City six points clear
Kevin De Bruyne has been known to lose his temper on the pitch. There was that infamous “Let Me Talk” rant when he tried to speak to the referee during Manchester Citys 2-1 victory over Napoli in 2017.
But when the pressure is really on, hes one of the calmest, most calculated players around – and thats just what Pep Guardiola needs as the title race heats up.
Liverpool are breathing down Citys necks, cutting the deficit at the top of the Premier League table to just three points before the kick-off of a must-win Manchester derby – an arena for cool heads.
And in De Bruyne, City have one of the best footballing brains in the game, with an instinctive knowledge of how to pull apart a Man Utd side that was starting to believe after losing just once in their previous 20 matches.
United had no answers on how to cope with Citys sharp passing and intelligent movement in a one-sided match and they had given up long before VAR overturned an offside decision when Riyad Mahrez had smashed in a fourth.
From early in the afternoon, De Bruyne had placed himself perfectly between Uniteds lines and they simply didnt have the ability or awareness to stop him.
Playing behind Scott McTominay and Fred and ahead of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire, United were clueless in how to curtail his influence.
That he scored the opening goals in a 4-1 victory over United is indicative of the way that City share them around but also a reflection of his enduring appetite. When Bernardo Silva pulled back a low cross, De Bruyne had shaken off any sense of a marker to steer the ball through Maguires legs.
After Jadon Sanchos superb equaliser, he was again in the right place when the ball dropped loose to smash in a second.
The goals were exclamation marks to an all-round performance that Ralf Rangnick must desperately want his United players to aspire to.
De Bruynes range of passing is well known and he delivered countless balls around the pitch to stretch the visitors out of shape.
Surrounded by willing runners in Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Mahrez and Silva, United were unable to stop the wave of attacks.
Of course there was a customary assist, although Mahrez deserves the majority of the credit for his controlled volley from De Bruynes corner.
Finally substituted in the 80th minute, he had still been chasing the ball in his own half long after Bruno Fernandes and Uniteds forwards had given in.
“Kevin is back,” Guardiola enthused. “After the injuries, he was struggling for rhythm, but now he is scoring goals, playing with power.
“He is one of the top players in the world, but he still runs and works hard, Im so proud of this guy.”
Make no mistake, United were such a potentially dangerous opponent that even Jurgen Klopp could admit to being a fan of Liverpools deadliest rivals for 90 minutes.
But the way the team that had won their last three Premier League games at the Etihad were swept aside will give a new energy to a squad that is expecting to win every match between now and the end of the season to hold off Liverpools challenge.
There are tough tests to come. Liverpool, obviously, when they visit the Etihad in April, but there are other difficult matches starting with Crystal Palace next Monday. But this is a reminder of just how unstoppable City at their best can be.
“Its about winning game-by-game,” De Bruyne said. “They [Liverpool] won yesterday but we responded in the right way.
“Sometimes we dont get the result but we always play the right way and we will fight until the end of the season.”
De Bruyne has been here before – that famous 2019 season when City were pushed to the final game of the campaign before seeing off the Reds by a point.