Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku had the shared experience of needing to escape Chelsea to realise the potential they displayed during their formative years at Stamford Bridge. De Bruyne ended up at Manchester City via Wolfsburg, while Lukaku’s more nomadic route took him to West Bromwich Albion, Everton, Manchester United then Inter Milan before he arrived back at Chelsea last summer.
Lukaku, who cost a club record £97.5m, always seemed destined to return to Chelsea at some stage, whereas De Bruyne – along with Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, also on the books at Stamford Bridge – must always be regarded as one that got away. The London side were certainly happy to get their hands on Lukaku again. They would have been even happier to get De Bruyne back, and their respective contributions to Manchester City’s 1-0 win at Etihad Stadium demonstrated exactly why this will always remain a pipe dream.
It was De Bruyne who demonstrated his world-class talent with 20 minutes left, curling a low right-foot finish past Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to settle this battle between first and second in the Premier League and extend City’s lead to a seemingly unassailable 13 points. He is one of the jewels in City’s crown, the Belgian’s languid style suddenly interrupted by flashes of pace, power and the deadly accuracy that finished off Chelsea here.
His compatriot Lukaku, in contrast, looks like a striker struggling for form and confidence, his current status not helped by an outspoken recent interview revealing discontent about his role that saw him dropped for the key game with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge and having to subsequently apologise.