With a quick look up at Thibaut Courtois, a puff of the cheeks and a short run-up, Kevin De Bruyne had silenced the raucous Santiago Bernabeu.

Manchester City’s captain for the night, the Belgian and his ten other teammates knew the Champions League was their only chance of any major silverware that season. By February in the 2019/20 campaign, the Blues had already picked up their hat-trick of Carabao Cups, but Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were quickly running away with the Premier League title and the reigning champions’ injury list was continuing to pile up.

After the usual procession in the group stages, City were drawn against 13-time winners Real Madrid in the last-16. And travelling out to the Spanish capital, the Blues knew they were coming up against the most experienced side in the competition.

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Fitness and injury issues forced Pep Guardiola into deploying a rather unusual starting XI – with Gabriel Jesus at left-wing and Bernardo Silva up-front – but De Bruyne’s presence in the heart of midfield was a constant. The former Chelsea man’s performance was crucial in City taking anything from the game into the second leg at the Etihad Stadium.

In a cauldron-like atmosphere, De Bruyne conducted proceedings right from the off and proved to everyone why he is one of the best footballers on the planet. From tracking back to springing counter-attacks with a single pass, his display was a sight to behold.

City created numerous chances in the first 60 minutes, but failed to make any count – something that’s become quite a trend recently. The quality of Real Madrid made them pay soon after, with Isco opening the scoring. When many Blue heads shook and dropped, the 30-year-old was bellowing and waving his hands to get them going again – playing his role as captain quite perfectly. He knew – just like everyone else – with De Bruyne on the pitch, City still had a chance.

Fifteen minutes were left on the clock, but at no point did panic set in for the marvellous Belgian. He darted into the Madrid area and twisted past two defenders before chipping the ball for Jesus to head home.

A vital away goal, but De Bruyne was not happy with just one. His combination play with the fresh Raheem Sterling earned City a penalty with seven minutes to play and fans instantly began to panic about who was taking it.

Guardiola’s side were experiencing a lot of problems from the spot that season and had rotated between a few candidates, but there was no doubt in De Bruyne’s mind that he was taking this one. As soon as the referee put the whistle to his mouth, the captain pointed to himself, grabbed the ball and got himself set.

Kevin De Bruyne was flawless against Real Madrid in 2020

Stroking the ball home without a care in the world, De Bruyne gave a nod up to the jubilant City fans up in the Bernabeu gods to acknowledge just what a huge moment it was in the tie. They had two away goals and one foot in the quarter-finals.

Fast forward to the present day and the star midfielder is still having such a monumental impact on the City team. Against the same opposition, at the same venue – but this time with a one-goal advantage – De Bruyne will want to channel his 2020 performance to power his side to a second consecutive Champions League final in 2022.

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