Is this the year of Bernardo Silva? Manchester City’s midfield maestro shines in central role against Chelsea

Bernardo Silva was the best player on the Wembley pitch by a distance and the main reason why Manchester City lifted the third trophy of the Pep Guardiola era

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Sunday 05 August 2018 17:10
Manchester City 2018/19 Premier League profile

It might be too early to make predictions about the football season at a match where the temperature is 28 degrees, where the players take organised drinks breaks, at a point in the summer when the schools have only just broken up and there are still four Test matches left to be played.

But sometimes you have to risk being premature and just go with what you see and feel: that this is going to be the season of Bernardo Silva.

That is how good he was here in the Community Shield at Wembley, the best player on the pitch by a distance and the main reason why Manchester City lifted the third trophy of the Pep Guardiola era. Chelsea could not lay a finger on Silva all afternoon, he was always too aware, too sharp, too clever, too incisive. He directed City’s play with and without the ball, made City’s second and ensuring that every last detail of Guardiola’s plans were executed on the pitch.

Throughout, Silva looked like a player who was flourishing in the trust and responsibility that Guardiola had given him. Because last season it felt as if City did not quite get the very best from the clever little midfielder from Lisbon.

The nature of modern football is that the biggest teams have far more money and far more top players than anyone else. That is how Manchester City have ended up with three of the best creative midfielders in the country. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are on another level from every other midfielder in the country. But the next best, if it is not Christian Eriksen, might just be Bernardo Silva.

So last season, after making his £43m transfer to City from Monaco, Silva had to find his way into the English game. He had to learn that not every time he was get he would get the free-kick. He had to learn that the ball was in play for longer, more like 80 minutes each game, rather than 60 minutes, as he observed himself. And with David Silva and De Bruyne occupying those two attacking midfield positions in City’s 4-3-3, there was no obvious role for him in the team.

Bernardo Silva battles in midfield with Jorginho

Bernardo Silva started 28 competitive games last year but rather than in midfield he played most often on the right of the front three. He is good there but never quite has the acceleration to beat his left-back on the outside, forcing him back towards the crowded midfield area. But it never felt like he could control the game as he would want to.

That changed today. David Silva is still not fully fit yet and De Bruyne not ready yet, just three weeks on from playing for Belgium against England in the World Cup third placed play-off game in St Petersburg.

So Bernardo Silva, knocked out of the World Cup at the last-16 stage, is ahead of them already. And he showed that he was more than good enough to step up here. He played the first half in that role David Silva usually plays, and he took he game to Chelsea, leading City’s pressing, stealing the ball high up the pitch, running through Chelsea’s unbalanced open midfield with ease.

Bernardo Silva played in an unusually central role

With no N’Golo Kante, Chelsea had no-one to stop Bernardo’s scampering forward runs and he nearly set Sergio Aguero up when he overhit a cross after getting to the by-line before anyone had noticed. Trusted to be the team’s main creative brains – that is not the case when De Bruyne and David Silva play – he saw more of the ball than usual, made more passes and looked like he was enjoying his spell manning the controls.

In the second half when Ilkay Gunodgan came on, Silva moved out onto the right of the front three, where he played for much of last year. He did not get to be quite as influential but he did play the perfect reverse pass through to Aguero to score City’s second goal and win the game. It was classic Silva: an insightful spot that not every midfield would have seen, and precise, delicate execution to go with it.

Silva will never have the physical power and explosive energy of De Bruyne, but he does have all the skills required be the long-term replacement for David Silva, in the role he began in at Wembley. Still just 23, Silva has all the ability in the world and valuable experience to match. That gradual transition from one Silva to the other could happen sooner than anyone thought, and this could be Bernardo’s year.

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