Watching the games between the best teams in the league by a country mile this season, one player stood out over both fixtures. No, it wasn’t the Professional Footballers Association and Premier League Player of the Year, Virgil Van Dijk of Liverpool. Nor was it the player football writers deemed to be the best in Raheem Sterling of Manchester City.
While Bernardo Silva didn’t exactly warm the bench last season, his minutes were limited in the Premier League and Pep did not trust the player enough in his first season to start him in the big games. As City descended upon Anfield in October however, he was already being hailed as their best player over the early part of the season. He had been deployed as a number ten, wing-back, in central midfield and on the left and right of a front three by the time this match came around. It was ominous for the rest of the league that he had not been found out in any of these positions.
Having been destroyed by the pace of Liverpool’s transitions twice at Anfield the previous season, Pep sought to exert more control over proceedings and Silva, alongside Fernandinho in the middle of the park, did just that. Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez negated Liverpool’s fullbacks on the flanks but it was Silva’s ability to keep the ball in deep positions and dictate the tempo that took the sting out of the Liverpool attack. Twenty one minutes into the game, he picked up the first card of the match for a challenge on Mohamed Salah, showing that he wouldn’t shy away from the physical battle either. He would complete four tackles in the game, more than any other City player.
In the pivotal reverse fixture in January, he would run 13.7 kilometres, the highest distance covered by any player in the Premier League this season, and provide the assist for Sergio Aguero’s goal. He made ten recoveries, again the most by any City player and four interceptions, while also spraying the ball around with elan. Kevin De Bruyne may have been back in the squad for this fixture, but it was Silva that Pep trusted to do the job for him. It was the other Silva, David, who was hooked off when Firmino equalized and City chased a winner.
These performances were two of many this season where the little Portuguese player knit things together for the defending champions. He is a beautiful player to watch. Great first touch, brilliant ball control, the ability to take people on and keep possession of the ball, good whip on his left foot; he has it all. The quality that endears him to his manager however is his work rate. No City player has worked harder for the cause this season. In the crucial Manchester derby last month, Silva played as the holding midfielder once Fernandinho was replaced due to injury and filled in brilliantly. If one were to look across at the prima donnas in other teams with half his ability strutting around like peacocks, it becomes apparent why this team has retained their title.
Manchester City are a special footballing team and Bernardo Silva has been the latest gift to the Premier League. It is inconceivable how in the past eight seasons, with four titles won in that period, none of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho and now Bernardo Silva have won any of the three major player awards. The fact that it is Raheem Sterling who finally did win one this year is an indictment on the English game. If clinical efficiency with and without the ball, the hardest state to arrive at as a player and as a collective, is overlooked by peers and onlookers for its simplicity, City will probably keep winning everything in sight. They keep adding these little gems to their squad but Pep has outdone himself with this one.
Bernardo Silva. Twinkle toes done neat and tidy. Raging bull done neat and tidy. My player of the season.