It’s been a juxtaposing debut season for Bernardo Silva at Manchester City. On the one hand, the Portuguese playmaker will be delighted to be part of a side that will win the Premier League title in a dominant fashion only a handful of teams have rivalled throughout the competition’s history.
On the other, he’ll feel his impact has paled to his significance in Monaco’s Ligue 1 title-winning side last season, when he was very much an integral component of the attack.
But Pep Guardiola has been smart with his utilisation of a 23-year-old transitioning to a league that he’s not naturally equipped for, at least in terms of speed and strength. He’s chosen the right games for Silva’s technical quality to shine, where he’s afforded the time and space to cut inside onto his favoured left foot rather than trying to beat defenders for pace.
Attempting to besiege Liverpool at home in hope of overturning a three-goal deficit, the second leg of the Champions League final at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday evening was certainly one of those. Indeed, in a match where City failed to come up with the ingenuity to match their energetic intensity, it was Silva who came closest to inspiring an iconic turnaround for a club still establishing their modern history on the European stage.
The obvious example was when Silva came inside and curled a beautiful effort onto the post, albeit helped by a fizzing deflection off Dejan Lovren’s head, but on a night where City’s attacking players struggled to make repeating impact it was the former Monaco star who created the most chances, took the second-most efforts at goal and completed the second-most dribbles of any of Guardiola’s players.
Establishing his place in the first team, at this point in the season, feels a somewhat futile exercise for Silva. But the importance of Tuesday’s performance lays in what it suggests about next season, when Manchester City will face a challenge that no Premier League side has conquered for nine years – retaining the Premier League title.
Silva is showing that he can play a far more pivotal part in that, and the idea of him one day replacing namesake David in central midfield is becoming increasingly plausible too. The Spaniard spent early portions of his career out wide as well before being allowed to dictate traffic centrally, and the 23-cap attacker is proving himself a similar breed.