When Danny Murphy was asked by BBC Sport for his take on what Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City may look like back in February 2016, he made a rather bold prediction:
“I’m not even sure that someone like David Silva fits into it (Guardiola’s system), the speed, tenacity and pressing the ball. You’re carrying him,” Murphy proclaimed.
Now, over a year on, Murphy has been made to eat his words. Silva has taken to Guardiola’s system like a duck to water, revelling in his new deeper role. But we’re not here to poke fun at Danny Murphy. People make inaccurate predictions all the time, and let’s be honest, even among the most staunch of David Silva supporters there were doubts over whether he would be able to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s system.
What we are here for – is to celebrate a true Manchester City great.
One thing that has never been in doubt is Silva’s technical ability, which is unrivalled in the Premier League. Arsenal fans, when their team are not mid-capitulation, rave about Mesut Ozil’s ability, but since signing for Manchester City in 2010, David Silva has shown that he is just as good, if not better, with the ball at his feet.
His passing is remarkably accurate, as seen by his perfectly-weighted, volleyed through-ball to Edin Dzeko to make it 6-1 at Old Trafford in 2011. His ability to retain possession of the ball is remarkable really, with probably the best example being his assist for Aguero at home to Wigan, just a month before that 6-1 drubbing. Silva picked up the ball, waltzed past his first challenger, and then caused two Wigan players to clatter into each-other, before playing the ball through for Aguero to complete his hat-trick.
Silva is sometimes criticised for his lack of prowess in front of goal, but his goals against Blackpool and West Ham show that he’s no slouch when it comes to finding the net. That devilish run at Bloomfield Road left Martin Crainey and David Vaughan nursing their ankles, such was the speed with which Silva jinked in-and out. He left Alex Song and Stewart Downing in a similar state a couple of years later at Upton Park; what a goal that was. His ability to glide past players is simply mesmerising.
Silva is undoubtedly known primarily for his playmaking ability, but it’s the other side of his game which has gone under the radar up until this season.
“I was impressed the most when I met him by the fact of how competitive he is,” said Guardiola. “The skills, you know them because he is a long time here in England, but how he is a winner, he has a winning mentality, he’s a fighter, he runs, he’s a fantastic player.”
This is what sets Silva apart from other talented playmakers in the league, such as Ozil. A willingness to fight for his team. The biggest criticism of Ozil since he arrived in England has been this ability to go missing when Arsenal have needed him most. Conversely, Silva has regularly taken games by the scruff of the neck when City have looked under the cosh.
For example, when Vincent Kompany was sent off after just six minutes at the KC Stadium back in 2014, the Blues looked like they were in danger of dropping crucial points. Silva, however, had other ideas. He took the responsibility of dragging the Blues into the game upon himself, curling in a delightful effort to set City on their way to an important 2-0 victory, in which he also set up Edin Dzeko’s clincher. His performance that day won City the game. He played so well that it looked like we were the team with the extra man. It was arguably the greatest, most dominative individual performance by any City player in recent memory.
Another attribute of Silva’s which is underestimated by many is his ability to adapt. It’s been thrown into the spotlight this season, but evidence of Silva’s adaptation can be seen throughout his time in Manchester. Within a few months of joining the club from Valencia, Silva was linked with a move back to Spain with Atletico Madrid, having already been written off by the English press for being too ‘lightweight’. It goes without saying that this claim couldn’t have been further from the truth, as Silva quickly became one of City’s most important players.
“I’m much better prepared now for matches, more experienced. The game is much faster in England than in Spain and this has helped me develop my speed,” he said back in 2011.
A neutral could be forgiven for thinking that Silva’s next few years at the club were fairly straightforward once he got to grips with the league, but his ongoing ankle troubles have rarely been mentioned. The Spaniard has injured his ankle on nine separate occasions since moving to Manchester and decided against having an operation to cure the problems. Rather than let his team suffer the consequences of his absence, he decided to play through the pain barrier, taking injections to get through matches for well over a year. Most players would have taken some time on the sidelines to relax and recover, but not Silva – he’s a true warrior.
Despite his commitment to the cause during Manuel Pellegrini’s reign, question marks remained over his future come summer 2016.
Only in the world of football could someone at the age of 30 be considered ‘old’, but that’s just the way it is. When you factor in Silva’s ongoing ankle problems and a career at the top level spanning over 12 years, it wouldn’t have been inconceivable for Pep Guardiola to deem him unsuitable for his demanding style of play. There were also question marks over whether Silva could play in the same side as Kevin De Bruyne, with the two often competing for the same position under Manuel Pellegrini.
Guardiola is an intelligent man, though, and he was never going to let go of a talent like Silva without giving him a chance to prove his worth. Pep dropped both Silva and De Bruyne into deeper roles, which the latter called “free eights”, and he hasn’t looked back since. Silva is deployed in a similar role to that of his Spanish compatriot Andres Iniesta, at Barcelona, and he is clearly enjoying himself.
“It is true that I am playing some steps further back sometimes because I have to help in the build-up,” Silva said recently.
“But Guardiola also gives me freedom to attack and be close to the rival goal, and create chances which is something that I really like. He gives me a lot of freedom and I am very happy playing in this role.”
According to WhoScored.com, only Aleksandar Kolarov made more successful tackles than Silva against Sunderland, while ‘El Mago’ played the joint-most key passes (3), maintaining a pass accuracy of 93.3%. The most impressive stat from Sunday’s game, however, is that Silva ran 12.23km during the course of the match, more than any other player on the pitch.
Silva has shown a willingness to learn from his new coach, and Pep believes that he can still improve. As soon as the final whistle was blown at The Stadium of Light, Guardiola went onto the pitch and rather than congratulate Silva on what was a ‘Man of the Match’ performance, he gave him advice on what he could do better in the future. It’s not because Pep was unhappy with him, it’s because he knows just how good a player he is, and so has very high expectations.
“David is one of the best players I ever trained in my life so I am a lucky guy to be with him,” Guardiola said to reporters on Sunday. “One of the reasons why I decided to come here is because I was pleased to be with him. I was in Spain when he was with Valencia. I was in Barcelona and I thought, ‘Wow! That guy is special.”
We all think the same, Pep.
City fans often have soft spots for players who ‘talk a good talk’ off the pitch, such as Vincent Kompany. City fans also love players who give their all every time that they step onto the pitch, like Pablo Zabaleta.
City fans love David Silva for a different reason, however. City fans love David Silva because he is quite simply, the most talented footballer to ever pull on a Manchester City shirt. He is an absolute joy to watch, and here’s hoping we get to experience that joy for many years to come.