Silva service shines as Manuel Pellegrini brings in sense of freedom and joy to Manchester City
Before Manchester City's last meeting with Chelsea, in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in April, David Silva faced the uncertainty of a late fitness test, which he failed. City went on to win 2-1 in any case with Sergio Aguero, who had also been doubtful, scoring the crucial goal.
The London club would doubtless love the same pair to be in danger of missing today's game at Stamford Bridge but it seems the best news they can hope for is what they already know – the absence of centre-half and captain Vincent Kompany, of whom Chelsea's fellow Belgian Eden Hazard has said: "When he plays, they win and when he doesn't play they lose, often."
City's defence has undeniably looked uncomfortable without their leader, Javi Garcia being no substitute, but in two away games over the past week the brilliance of Silva and Aguero has more than compensated. At West Ham last Saturday and then in Moscow in the Champions' League, they shone both individually and in combination, an understanding which they have built up over two full seasons of helping to achieve important victories.
"Everybody knows just how important Sergio is for us, he is a key man," Silva said. "But also we need to be in form as well, the guys who play just in behind him to create chances to keep scoring. Last season he only scored 12 goals in the League and he's already halfway towards that.
"I think he has a very good chance of being right up there in the goalscoring charts. If he is, then it helps the team and would show that we are scoring plenty of goals. Over the season we've been playing together and I've tried to help him score as many as possible, and I'll keep trying to create those chances for him."
Silva's goal at West Ham meant he has already reached half of his more modest total of four last season too, while accepting that his role as one of the two wide midfielders deployed in City's 4-2-3-1 formation is essentially more creator than finisher.
"It's always nice on a personal front when you get to score, so it felt good. But I recognise my role in the team is a little more diverse than that. I am there to help the strikers, and to create assists for the goalscorers – to help make the team tick and play, and to help the team defensively when I need to, so that's what I concentrate on."
He puts some unexpectedly poor away results early on down to the transition from Roberto Mancini to Manuel Pellegrini, who has nevertheless stuck to much the same system, while bringing in Fernandinho as Yaya Touré's defensive midfield partner and the powerful Alvaro Negredo as an alternative to Edin Dzeko as principal striker. What difference has the Chilean manager made?
"I think throughout your career you always learn from every manager you work with," Silva says. "Certainly Manuel has given us a certain amount of freedom and joy when we're out there in our football. And I think that is proved by the amount of goals we've been scoring as a team, but it's still a little bit early to judge how far we can go, and how far we can progress and achieve in terms of trophies.
"He is very calm, relaxed, and doesn't tend to lose his temper at all. And he transmits that calmness to the team. Obviously there are moments of tension, and any person can react in the heat of the moment, and in a game situation. But certainly he's a very calm guy."
Surprised that Chelsea have not found a regular place for his Spain team-mate Juan Mata, Silva believes they will be among this season's main title challengers. He also names Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, though conspicuously not another Manchester team.
Three years in the city, and the City, have taught him a trick or two off the field as well as on it.
Chelsea v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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