When Bernardo Silva first arrived at the Etihad, he carried a reputation of being a silky smooth operator; a dribbler and creator who was capable of running with the ball and splitting defences open with just one pass. Hence, he was rightly touted as the rightful inheritor of David Silva’s throne.
On arriving at the Etihad for the first time back in 2017, Silva auditioned for his Manchester City jersey by ripping apart the hosts as part of a bulldozing Monaco side, whose attacking prowess was too hot to handle for Manchester City’s ageing backline. Although City did run out 5-3 winners against Monaco at home in a last 16 Champions League tie, it was exclusively down to their sheer attacking brilliance, with the defences on both sides having a rather lacklustre day.
Bernardo Silva, creator-in-chief, started on the right side of a 4-4-2 but chose to cut inside at every opportunity he got, allowing Sidibe on his right to overlap at every feasible chance. His first display of brilliance came on a Monaco counter attack – he picked the ball up inside his own half, cut inside, beat two onrushing City defenders, cut back the ball into his own half, and played a dangerous ball through a gaping hole in City’s defence. Fortunately for the Citizens, no one was quick enough to chase it.
That was perhaps the moment at which Guardiola thought ‘I must sign him’. The French side went on to come back from a 5-3 away loss after winning 3-1 in Monaco and qualifying for the final eight on away goals, with Bernardo influential back in France as well.
Last season, Bernardo was operated largely from the bench and out of his favourite position, as De Bruyne and David Silva were in sizzling hot form and too good to drop. He took whatever chances he got from the right winger’s position though and with his low centre of gravity and ability to curl one in from his left foot he amassed 20 goals and assists across all competitions – not too shabby for someone in their first season in English football.
However, his game this season has gone up a notch. His endurance and stamina have risen exponentially, shown by how he’s covered more ground than anyone in the City side. He has also racked up the largest ground covered in 90 minutes twice this campaign against Liverpool and Tottenham respectively.
To add to that, he’s already played more key passes, had more touches, completed twice as many crosses, and also bettered his output in terms of interceptions (10 v 15), tackles (27 v 35) and clearances (10 v 20) in comparison to last years campaign. His game reading ability has allowed him to help track back and help out Walker and Danilo, with only Fernandinho having more tackles than him in the City side (stats from FourFourTwo).
The defensive side of his game has truly marked him as a dual threat – someone capable of both running 50 yards to stop a counter, and then running 30 back in the opposite direction with the ball to start another.
The two injuries to Kevin De Bruyne this season have been detrimental to his progress and last year the Belgian missed out on the PFA Player of the Year only because of an almost inhuman scoring spree of Mo Salah. However, the injuries to KdB coupled with the arrival of Mahrez at the RW spot has freed up the central midfield role for Bernardo Silva, a position that he’s played almost unerringly thus far this season. Further, he’s also had to shoulder an added burden, due to David Silva’s hamstring injury.
His positional IQ is extremely high, and that allows him to carefully time his late runs into the box/to its edge and wait for a suitable cutback, or a scoffed clearance or ricochet. He has racked up 15 goals and assists across four competitions already this season and seeing that City are still competing on all four fronts, he looks set to one-up his tally from a season ago.
In the dressing room, he’s been (seemingly almost exclusively) on the receiving end of pranks and practical jokes by the others in the squad, but the performances on the pitch have meant that a good and healthy friendship off the pitch, have resonated in the cohesion and mobility Manchester City have displayed on the pitch as a whole. He did state earlier this season that he’d like to convince Guardiola to sign more Portuguese players to build up his own prank-war team, but the standard he is setting for his fellow countrymen may be extremely hard to replicate, for, as his coach puts it, ”Every single game he has played this season is perfect.”
With a work ethic like the one he possesses, an ability to mingle effortlessly in the dressing room, and the quality on the ball that he’s been blessed with, it would be extremely hard to say there’s a better skill set desired in a player than the one Bernardo Silva possesses.