Amid the strong characters and training-ground tensions that have surrounded Manchester City's push for the title this season, there has been no figure more detached or more outstanding than David Silva, their match-winner against Arsenal and already a candidate for player of the year.
Silva's goal on Sunday means that if City beat Stoke tomorrow they will be leaders at Christmas for the first time since 1929 and, of all their expensively assembled squad, few can claim to have played such a key role as Silva. Against Arsenal he came up against Robin van Persie, the other individual in the Premier League with a claim to be the form player of the season so far, and it was Silva who prevailed.
Silva's reputation has grow to the extent that he is becoming a benchmark for the new standard of attacking midfielder who can play right across the three in a 4-2-3-1 formation and score goals as well. The City fans at Stamford Bridge berated Chelsea's Juan Mata for being – in their own words – a second-rate version of Silva. Harsh? Certainly, but there is no question that Silva is the pre-eminent playmaker-winger at the current time.
There is one aspect of life at City, however, that Silva says he has nothing to do with: the training-ground fights, most recently demonstrated by Micah Richards' spat with Mario Balotelli last week which the players quickly resolved. "Stuff like that you can always turn into a positive for the team," Silva said. "Everyone is going at it 100 per cent in training and stuff can happen.
"But we are very united and there is a great team spirit out on the field. I don't get involved because I am very cool-headed and calm. You have to respect everyone's character but I try to keep a back-seat view of everything and stay calm."
If City beat Stoke they will pass Christmas Day as leaders with 44 points, the highest of any leaders at that stage of the season since Christmas 2006, when Manchester United had 47 points and went on to win the league in the following May with 89 points. Even Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in their first title-winning season only passed Christmas as leaders with 43 points.
Silva said that the victory over Arsenal had been "a must-win game". He said: "I think we needed a morale- and confidence-boosting victory after the defeat at Chelsea and I think this will lift us. We did well at Chelsea but didn't manage to win. We are aware that Manchester United are going to be pushing us all the way but we have to focus on ourselves.
"We have to keep on the road we have been on up to now, keep our own affairs in order and the rest will look after itself. At the moment it is United just behind us but others will be gathering towards the end of the season. To keep the gap as it is we have to keep winning our games.
"You might say United have been disappointing but they are right there on our heels and you can't knock that. We know they are going to be right behind us so we have to make sure there are no slip-ups and try and win every game."
City have won 17 out of 18 games at the Etihad Stadium since they were beaten there by Everton on 20 December last year. Stoke have won their last four games and are up to eighth position, just five points behind Arsenal in fifth place. Silva has six goals this season in 22 games and, in becoming one of the outstanding performers in the division, believes that City's more exuberant style suits the way he plays.
He said: "I think Roberto [Mancini] is doing a great job. He got us into the Champions League for this season and it speaks for itself the fact that we are top. We are playing some good football, the style of football is good and let us hope he is repaid for this style of football with the league title at the end of the season.
"You have to be demanding, and demand the best when you have a squad of top players like this and push them to the limit – demand as much as you can. Let's hope that this demanding style pays off and we can go on and win the title this season.
"You don't feel tiredness when you're on top. I had a bit of a knock on my ankle a few games back and a bit of swelling that was a worry, but I still managed to turn out every time. I feel good in myself and am ready to carry on. If I have to drop out any time we have plenty of people who can step in and do well."
On Sunday, City took another significant step towards the title with a win over an excellent Arsenal team. Over the last 11 years, the leaders at Christmas have turned out to be the champions in May on seven occasions. Already this title feels like it should really be City's to lose, despite the threat of United just two points behind them. Another FA Cup will not suffice this time around.
"I am really enjoying my football here," Silva said. "It is great, obviously, when you're top of the league and everything is going well and we are playing some really good football. It is enjoyable to play in the team when we are playing that way. Let's hope it all pays off. We won the FA Cup last year and it would be nice to repeat that but the title is the big target."
'We won't steal Tevez' from Milan, say PSG
Paris St-Germain claim they will not interfere with Milan's plans to sign Manchester City forward Carlos Tevez in January. Milan are due to open talks with City on Thursday. The PSG director of football Leonardo, a former coach of Milan, said: "I will not steal Tevez from Milan. I have not contacted the player and I will not get in between the Rossoneri's affairs.
"Even though I didn't share the views of [Milan owner Silvio] Berlusconi which meant it was impossible for me to stay at Milan, relations with the club are good."
However, Leonardo did admit that if Milan rule themselves out of the race to sign Tevez, PSG would be ready to make a move for the Argentina international.Reuse content