PHOTO:AFPKevin De Bruyne believes Fernandinho’s return from suspension will provide the foundation for Manchester City to get their spluttering Premier League campaign back on track at West Ham on Wednesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side have dropped out of the top four and trail leaders Chelsea by 12 points after winning just one of their last four league games.
Guardiola wrote off City’s titles hopes during that unexpected slump, but a comfortable 3-0 victory at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday was a much needed tonic and De Bruyne anticipates the return of Brazil midfielder Fernandinho will be even more significant.
Fernandinho has served a four-match ban after receiving his third red card in six games in a win against Burnley on January 2.
During Fernandinho’s absence, City looked alarmingly vulnerable and were thrashed 4-0 at Everton in Guardiola’s heaviest league defeat as a manager.
But the 31-year-old is expected to return to the starting line-up at the London Stadium, with De Bruyne predicting an upturn in City’s fortunes.
“Obviously we’ve missed him. De Bruyne said. “He’s been an important player throughout his time at City.
“He plays a pivotal role for us in midfield and helps keep everything organised, plus he’s also very good on the ball.
“Now he’s served his ban and is available for us again, so it’s a big boost for the team because he’s missed seven games this season through suspension.
“If you get a red card in England you’re banned for three or sometimes four games which is unbelievable, but there’s not much you can do about it. I think one game is enough but those are the rules, I suppose.
“I think Ferna’s one of the best holding midfielders I’ve ever played with. We are very lucky to have him.”
– Winning streak –
Fifth placed City are two points adrift of the top four and find themselves in a battle just to secure a Champions League spot after being widely tipped as likely champions following a blistering start to the season.
However, De Bruyne is confident City can put together a long winning streak as they face Swansea, Bournemouth, Sunderland and Stoke after the Hammers clash.
“Hopefully we can beat West Ham on Wednesday and then put a bit of a run together in the coming weeks,” he said.
“I think we’re playing much better than we did last season. We played so well against Tottenham but only got a point.
“That’s how it’d been going for us this year, so it’s a little bit frustrating. The important thing is we are creating chances so the goals will come.”
City return to east London less than a month after thrashing West Ham 5-0 in the FA Cup third round.
That chastening experience should ensure West Ham are fully motivated to make amends in their first match since the sale of star midfielder Dimitri Payet.
Payet was granted his wish to return to his former club Marseille after several weeks of rancour over his attempt to engineer the transfer.
Hammers fans were furious with Payet, but Slaven Bilic’s side coped admirably, defeating Palace and Middlesbrough without the France international to climb into mid-table.
“We now look forward to building on our recent good run of form with five league wins in the last seven matches as we focus on continuing our rise up the Premier League table,” West Ham co-owner David Sullivan said.
Bilic plans to replace Payet with Scotland midfielder Robert Snodgrass, who is in line to make his debut after training with his new team-mates for the first time on Monday following his transfer from Hull.
Jose Fonte, the Portugal central defender signed from Southampton, could also make his debut.