Pep Guardiola is hopeful Kevin De Bruyne has an injury-free run for Manchester City despite being targeted by Marseille during the Champions League victory at Stade Vélodrome.
De Bruyne came in for some rough treatment from Andre Villas-Boas’ team, the worst challenge coming from a Álvaro González stamp which went unpunished by referee Tobias Stieler.
The Belgium midfielder, in his first City start in more than three weeks after a muscular problem, still provided assists for Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling in the 3-0 victory, with Ilkay Gundogan scoring the other goal.
“These actions in football sometimes unfortunately happen, that’s why the referee is there,” said Guardiola. “Hopefully we are lucky that nothing more happens and we’re ready for the next game.
“We know that Kevin is an outstanding, incredible person and football player. He always plays well, there's something special. I'm so happy he is back. He was two weeks injured and he played really well again."
De Bruyne levelled Thierry Henry’s record of 20 Premier League assists in a season earlier this year and since his City debut in 2015 has 18 more than any other player in the division.
His return to the City team comes at the right time for Guardiola, who feels his players are finding their rhythm after a start to the campaign when they deserved criticism for their dropped points in the Premier League.
"We have to accept the criticism,” he said. “We play every three days, when you win you are good but if you don't people want to destroy everything.
"But it's about the chairman, the sporting director, the players and managers are calm and know exactly what to do. Part of the criticism was right, but you've got to accept it. It's part of our job.
“It's about where we are and where we've come from in the last month, with the lack of preparation, injuries and Covid-19 but the Champions League is in a good position now. In the Premier League we are away but we have one game left and still all the season. People come back and I'm pretty sure we are going to do a good season.”
Guardiola had travelled to France expecting Villas-Boas to play a flat-back four, only for the Portuguese coach to field a five-man defence.
“We didn’t expect five at the back when we were speaking at the hotel about the match, only when we saw the line-up,” he said. "When you play against five at the back you need to play high and wide and Raheem was exceptional and Phil (Foden) as well.
“We played really well, we didn’t concede absolutely anything, we were under control, we were patient and so aggressive without the ball, so I am so satisfied with the performance and victory because winning away is always difficult. We took control and had rhythm so that’s good.
"We were so stable defensively. Aymeric [Laporte] was good, Kyle [Walker] is in the best form since we've been together in Manchester, Oleksandr [Zinchenko] helped us, John [Stones] played good minutes. I'm so satisfied with the way we played."
Torres played in an unfamiliar striker’s role and he was teed up by De Bruyne after Valentin Rongier gave the ball away in his own penalty area. Marseille got into the match in the second half but Gundogan scored from close range after Sterling headed into his path.
Sterling’s goal was a beautiful move started by De Bruyne before he surged into the penalty area and provided the cross for his team-mate.
“I know today with social media that when you win it’s a masterpiece and that when you lose you are a disaster. It’s important to be stable and to be calm,” Guardiola said. “It’s important to start the Champions League with two victories because it helps us. We are so close now to being in the last 16.”