After a promising first season, Bernardo Silva has now taken on a truly key role in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side.
The Portuguese sensation has already started 21 Premier League games this season, six more than in his maiden campaign with the Citizens, and has found himself operating through the middle far more often, compared to his wide-right role last term.
There, he can use his low centre of gravity and dead-eye passing to tear defences apart.
And Guardiola has been generous in his praise of Silva’s improvement this season, claiming he is the first name on his team sheet.
“For me, to drop Bernardo Silva right now is almost impossible,” Guardiola said. “Right now it is Bernardo and 10 more players.
“I don’t know what this guy has done this season. Playing in the middle and outside, every single game he played perfect.”
The former Monaco man seems to have now become Guardiola’s favourite student. So, what’s changed?
Among the Man City squad, Bernardo Silva is top for distance covered in the Premier League by miles. Literally. He’s clocked up 258.270 KM in total this season, at least 6.5 KM more than any teammate, and leads the way per 90 minutes played, too, with an average of 12.26 KM.
A key tenant in Guardiola’s style of play has always been the need to win back possession as quickly as possible, something many of the Catalan’s new signings can struggle to adjust to.
Last season, Silva made a total of 10 interceptions in the Premier League, a figure which already stands at 14 this season. The Portugal international is reading the opposition’s patterns of play better, positioning himself to turn over possession and fitting into City’s defensive shape far better.
As a result, Silva’s defensive output has been commendable for a primarily creative player: only Fernandinho (48) has made more tackles than him (33) for City in the league this season, while the 5ft 8″ tyro has developed a nasty streak to his game, with 23 fouls in the league this season compared to nine during the entirety of last term.
Silva never had any doubts that he could catch up to his teammates, though.
“The second season is always easier than the first one. When you change it’s always more difficult,” he said in October. “You have to adapt to the way your team plays, you have to adapt to your team-mates, to the league, to the referees.”
Last season, Silva looked on the edge of brilliance, but struggled to assert himself on the City starting XI due to two main factors: the absolute, god-tier brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne and a lack of the same directness that has seen the Belgian, as well as David Silva, pick up so many plaudits.
De Bruyne’s injury troubles this season have seen Silva take up a far more important role as one of City’s chief creators, with much greater onus on the Portuguese to supply the ammunition for Sergio Aguero and Co.
Silva has created 2.14 chances per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, compared to 1.84 last term, while he has also taken 1.61 shots per 90 minutes in 2018/19, with that number standing at 1.48 in 2017/18.
Only City’s front three of Sterling (109), Sane (85) and Aguero (54) have attempted more dribbles in the Premier League than Silva (50) this season, showing just how much he now attacks right at the heart of the opposition defence.
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Regardless of tactics and player quality, one thing always remains true in football; you cannot be successful with an unhappy squad. Just ask Chelsea, English football’s very own ‘Jekyll and Hyde’.
Since his arrival at the club in May 2017, it has been well documented just how nice Silva. Fabian Delph called him a ‘wonderful guy’ back in September.
“Bernardo Silva? Ah, he’s average. One of the worst players in the team…” Delph said with a smile. “Nah, he’s a team player, a wonderful guy, everyone loves him. He looks about 45 but he’s only about 20 or something.”
Just like any ‘teacher’s pet’, poor old Silva has been the butt of many changing room jokes during his time in Manchester. Teammates constantly find new ways to embarrass him on social media, but the 24-year-old takes everything in his stride and is quite clearly loved among his peers.
“As a person, I always enjoy working with good people and he’s one of them,” Guardiola said in May 2018. “He has amazing relations with his teammates, coaches, everyone. It is difficult to find anyone better in that than Bernardo Silva.”
The former Barcelona boss also insisted Silva will never be sold as long as he is in charge at the Etihad. That in itself is the biggest compliment Guardiola can pay to a player.