BERNARDO Silva has started well for Manchester City and looks ready to seize a key role especially after an injury to star man Kevin De Bruyne..
Only goalkeeper Ederson and player of the year De Bruyne were involved in more games than Bernardo Silva in Manchester City’s title-winning season. The problem for Silva was that 13 of his team-mates made more starts. He was present but peripheral. Always available but rarely given the opportunity to take centre stage.
The early signs are that this could change in his second season with the club – both figuratively and literally. Operating in a central role, it was Silva’s crashing first-time shot that settled the game in City’s favour in their 2-0 win over Arsenal.
This came after he had been even more impressive in the Community Shield win over Chelsea.
Pep Guardiola was typically effusive in his praise following that display at Wembley. “The performance of Bernardo Silva was a masterpiece,” he said. “Right now, it is Bernardo and 10 players more. Right now. But in 11 months it depends on what they show me on the pitch. Bernardo is far away from other guys, so that is why, at the moment, he plays.
“He is so intelligent, he is clever. He is a fighter, a competitor.
I think he is the guy most beloved in our team and today he showed me a lot of things. He came back earlier and that showed me again a lot of things and that is one of the reasons we won today. It was for many reasons. One of the reasons was Bernardo.”
Guardiola’s reference to Silva’s superior conditioning was evident in the stats against Arsenal too.
He covered 12.68 kilometres – over a kilometre more than any of his team-mates but also more than anyone on the opposition line-up, despite the fact that they were the team chasing the ball. Silva just never stopped moving.
City needed this sort of form from him. By deploying Silva in the middle rather than out wide on the right, Guardiola has not only been able to accommodate his £60m club-record signing Riyad Mahrez but also ease the key pairing of David Silva and De Bruyne back to full fitness too. Bernardo Silva has plugged a gap but he has done so in style.
He is far from a novice in the position, of course. The 24-year-old Portugal international wore the No 10 shirt at Monaco and played that role intermittently with the club. But, for a number of reasons, he could be used there much more often at City this season.
There were signs against Arsenal that Guardiola is keen to evolve the team’s approach. That is perhaps no surprise given that three of the back four – Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones – started only 29 Premier League games between them last season. Their increased involvement naturally changes the shape of this City side.
Mendy is a marauding left-back, as shown by his assist for Silva’s goal, pulling the ball back from near the by-line. With Laporte playing inside him, a natural left-footer who has been used at left-back himself, this opens up a new avenue of attack. Raheem Sterling can come inside rather than hug the touchline. Riyad Mahrez loves to do the same.
With Stones also showing in the Community Shield how comfortable he is when playing further forward, it means Guardiola can still get bodies in midfield and this allows for a different type of player to nominally occupy the central midfield role. After a year of adjusting to life in the Premier League, the slight-of-frame Silva can do that job.
Against Arsenal, only 29 per cent of Silva’s touches actually came in the central third of the pitch. It was his starting position but he still had the licence to drift into half spaces in order to free himself. The flexibility of City’s system is such that he is encouraged to find those pockets out wide – something which, of course, suits him very well.
City do not need to look too far for a precedent. Silva’s namesake, the iconic No.21 at Manchester City David Silva, has already made that transition from the wing to the centre and both men share the competitive spirit that is needed in the role. The mantle could be passed on.
Of course, David Silva still has a major role to play in what is the final year of his current contract. But at 32, Guardiola acknowledged in April that the intention is to use the Spaniard more sparingly than he has in his first two seasons. “Next season, David maybe will not play every game,” he explained. “That is why the squad has to be big.”
While City did look to sign a central midfielder in the summer, there was a reason why Mahrez was the priority and it was certainly not because Sterling or Leroy Sane had disappointed. It was because Guardiola knew that Phil Foden could step up. It was because Guardiola knew he already had a winger who could be converted to the role.
“When he played he has been great,” the City boss said of Bernardo Silva in February. “He is a young guy and someone we are so happy to have in the changing room. He will stay a long time, while I am here he will not leave, he will stay with me. I have not seen him sad, even for one day – always in a good mood, even when he was not playing.”
Silva may be a happy soul, beloved by his team-mates. No doubt he enjoys just being a part of this Manchester City story. But every indication so far suggests that he is ready and able to take on a much bigger role. Maybe it is now time for Bernardo Silva to take centre stage.