There is little doubt that since he signed for City in 2010, David Silva has been one of the best players to pull on the blue shirt. However, when Pep Guardiola arrived, the Catalan coach was met with an ageing David, who had been under scrutiny from the media for a below par couple of years under Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean manager used him in a number of positions, but more predominantly in the number 10 role behind Aguero or Dzeko, or on the left wing. He was still effective in these positions, but it seemed his best days were behind him.
However, since Pep took over we have seen an evolution in terms of David’s positioning. This change has perhaps been off the radar from the outside, with the transition of Aleks Kolarov to a centre-back, and the desire to have a ball-playing goalkeeper being the centre of much attention and scrutiny. Pep has the tendency and willingness to alter his tactics game by game, but David Silva’s best games this season have been in the number 8 role, alongside Kevin De Bruyne, a much deeper role than seasons gone by.
Rather than one of the midfielders being the number 10 and the other sitting much deeper, Pep deploys them both sort of halfway between the two roles. The role is best described when compared to Andres Iniesta and Xavi, now Ivan Rakitic, who have core defensive tasks, yet most of Barca’s play comes through the two number 8s that look to get on the ball as often as possible and pick passes from deep, ultimately feeding the attacking players who make devastating runs off the ball. You cannot compare the front three of Sané, Jesus and Sterling that we have seen of late to that of Barcelona’s attacking trio yet, but the movement, pace, and understanding they have can truly reach its potential by the clever deeper lying playmakers in Silva and De Bruyne.
Pep played this formation to huge success at the start of the season, however from the first Champions League game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, when Gündoğan made his debut, he altered it to fit him in. Following this, City saw a poor couple of months where dreams of the title fell further and further away. Guardiola experimented with 3s and 5s in defence, he tried diamond formations in the middle – however, none really worked for longer than one game. It was the home draw with Spurs where he reverted back to this formation of 4-1-4-1, and we haven’t looked back since.
David has never been known for his goalscoring abilities, albeit he has a few big goals to his name in the past, but he has been known around the world for his eye for a pass. In this deeper role, he can get on the ball more and see the game developing with his unique vision, meaning he can feed balls to Sané, Sterling, Jesus, Agüero or whoever is playing. This allows City to see much greater possession and create more scoring chances. With Kevin in a similar role, City’s front 6 can be terrifying for defences, with Yaya Touré or Fernandinho shielding them.
This new number 8 role for David Silva is surely something we can expect to see in his final years at City, with the Spaniard now 31. Often criticised for his unwillingness to track back and help the defence in the past, it feels like he has turned a corner under Pep in this aspect as we see him covering much more ground trying to win the ball back and start attacks. With Fernandinho, Touré and even Delph giving Pep a selection headache, the two number 8s is a tactic we hope Pep deploys in the remainder of this season, giving David Silva chance to excel with the aim of breaking through the best defences in Europe, as he has shown he is more than capable of this season against the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United. This evolution of David, if he can stay fit, will almost certainly elongate his career in Manchester as he enters his autumn years.