If you look at Bernardo Silva's positions over the past few years, you might misconstrue him. Silva is the epitome of a versatile player, having played as a substitute forward, left or right winger, central midfielder, and even left-back. He is known for his practicality, excellence as a team player, and all-around ability, much like James Milner.
Silva is arguably one of the best technical players in the Premier League. Despite not being an all-round footballer like Erling Haaland or possessing the sharp insight of Kevin De Bruyne, Silva's proficiency stands out. Even Pep Guardiola does not endorse him playing as a defensive midfielder like Rodri. Admittedly, Silva's stats have declined this season, with a decrease in successful dribbles and shots taken.
However, in terms of intelligence, adaptability, and stability, Silva is unrivaled. This season could be his season to shine. Throughout Guardiola's 15-year coaching career, the midfield has usually been the area where his teams perform best in the league. However, this season has been unusually challenging for Guardiola's midfield.
The departure of Ilkay Gundogan was a significant blow. Top Premier League clubs are not used to losing players against their will, and City was caught off guard. Kevin De Bruyne limped off after just 22 minutes in his first game for City and is yet to return. Rodri's red card against Nottingham Forest led to his suspension against Arsenal, which could be City's most important game this season.
This is not the first time Silva has played in the number 8 role for an extended period, but it is possibly the first time City's midfield has revolved around him. In the absence of De Bruyne, Silva has taken charge of providing qualities usually offered by the Belgian. In matches against Manchester United and Liverpool, Silva's task was to provide the type of runs De Bruyne usually does.
This was exactly how City planned it, as seen in a previous attack that almost perfectly foreshadowed the goal. Note Silva's pointing direction, requesting a pass from Jack Grealish.
He did something similar against Liverpool on Saturday. Trent Alexander-Arnold's task was to withdraw to the right-back position and mark Jeremy Doku, while Silva sneaked past from the inside and delivered a dangerous ball into the six-yard box within the first minute.
And here is a similar action – again, take note of Silva's pointing for the pass.
Against Manchester United and Liverpool, City dominated the games, and Silva was responsible for playing the ball out from the back and clearing it. In the match against Arsenal, with Rodri injured, Silva took on a deeper role to solidify the defense. He played this role smartly, distributing simple passes that helped City gain control.
In the thrilling 4-4 draw against Chelsea, the key was to withstand and break the opposition's press, and Silva was better than anyone at receiving the ball under pressure, turning on the ball, and creating attacking opportunities.
If the above stats may not appear significant in Silva's contribution, then in what aspects does he excel?
Well, playing more regularly in midfield means his ability to carry the ball forward has significantly improved – aiding the team in advancing roughly 200 meters per game.
Silva's long-pass accuracy has also greatly increased, with Opta defining "long pass" as a pass of 30 meters or more.
And these passes are not just long balls into unimportant areas. Silva has created more scoring opportunities than ever before.
In recent years, Silva's most noticeable progress in matches can be seen in his tackle success rate. Once considered a bit weak in the Premier League, he is now a tenacious fighter and a useful ball-controller.
Perhaps Silva is the kind of player who could thrive in any era, but he seems particularly suited to today's football. He is technically gifted, versatile, capable of playing multiple roles, and willing to contribute under intense pressure. His endurance ensures regular appearances, with minimal injury concerns.
While Haaland's goals cannot be ignored, De Bruyne may take the spotlight in the second half of the season, and Rodri, the hero of the Champions League final, will continue to leave a lasting impression. But for now, Silva is Manchester City's technical leader.
Author: Michael Cox