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Magical Merlin

The resurgence of David Silva played key role in City's win over CSKA Moscow, writes Peter Fraser.

Last Updated: 25/10/13 at 23:32

David Silva: Touched the ball 81 times in his 79 minutes against CSKA

David Silva: Touched the ball 81 times in his 79 minutes against CSKA

After the injuries and the dip in form of the past calendar year, David Silva appears to have rediscovered the spellbinding talents which led to his 'Merlin' nickname.

The Spaniard was superb as Manchester City picked up a crucial 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night and the success put Manuel Pellegrini's side back on track for qualifying from UEFA Champions League Group D.

Sadly, the game was marred by racist chanting from the stands but, on the field, Silva was the star man. Sergio Aguero may have scored twice to help City comeback from Zoran Tosic's opener on a much-talked-about difficult pitch in Moscow, however, it was impossible to ignore Silva. He seems to be back to his wizardry performances of City's Premier League-winning campaign of 2011/12.

CSKA Moscow v Manchester City starting line-ups

Selection

Boss Pellegrini made three changes for the crucial game in Russia as City aimed to respond to their humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich on Matchday Two. Full-backs Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov replaced Micah Richards and Gael Clichy while Jesus Navas returned at the expense of Samir Nasri.

That meant strikers Aguero and Alvaro Negredo again led the line on an uneven and threadbare pitch at the Arena Khimki, which was described as "unbelievable" by Pellegrini.

CSKA were able to give Seydou Doumbia his first Champions League start of the season following his recovery from injury. But Alan Dzagoev and Rasmus Elm were both unavailable.

Story of the game

Silva picked up from where he left off in the league victory over West Ham United last Saturday evening. Floating around the pitch, creating chances with magnetic control, and playing beautifully delicate passes, the Spaniard was brilliant.

For all the £92million which City spent in the summer transfer market, it is the resurgence of Silva, along with the familiar Aguero - who now has eight goals in his last six games in all club competitions - and Yaya Toure which is giving Pellegrini's squad an element of the strength they possessed under Roberto Mancini two seasons ago.

Before he was substituted in the 79th minute, Silva, a 2010 signing from Valencia, showed no signs of struggling on CSKA's patched-up pitch. He was sublime in his 81 touches and 61 passes at an excellent success rate of 88.5 per cent.

Yaya Toure (l) touched the ball on a higher number of times but Silva (r) drifted around the pitch

Silva had finished the first half with 47 touches, which was second only to Toure as the highest number on the field. But, unlike the central Toure, Silva was drifting around the pitch in areas which were hurting CSKA. He also created three chances in the first half - more than any other player. Sky Sports' Niall Quinn said: "He has been terrific. He is a joy to watch."

Pellegrini decided to take Silva off with just more than 10 minutes of the game remaining but, by that time, he had comfortably done enough to contribute to City's win. Given Silva also had a 100 per cent shooting accuracy with two shots on target, along with eight crosses and gaining possession on seven occasions, it was a superb night for the 27-year-old.

The finesse of Silva's play was in stark contrast to the CSKA game plan which City were facing from the start. CSKA wanted to try and exploit the perceived weakness of the presence of make-shift centre-back Javi Garcia with a barrage of long balls.

David Silva assisted Sergio Aguero for City's equaliser in Moscow

With question marks surrounding the pace and aerial ability of midfielder-by-trade Garcia, who had an extremely shaky game as the likes of Joleon Lescott and Richards had to watch from the bench, CSKA frequently aimed to go over the top of the City defence and it made the visitors look very nervous. Quinn said: "There is a vulnerability to City's defenders. CSKA are beginning to smell that."

That was exactly the case when former Manchester United man Tosic opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Keisuke Honda inexcusably outjumped Garcia to flick on goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev's route one punt up field before Tosic showed greater anticipation than the City defence to score.

CSKA played a barrage of long balls compared with City in the first half

But City equalised just two minutes later thanks to Aguero. The Argentine drew City level with a sharp finish from inside the box after being assisted by Silva. Having also scored twice in the win at West Ham, Aguero then netted what proved to be the winner in the 42nd minute with a brave header from Negredo's clever, chipped cross. It was Aguero's first headed goal in the Champions League just four days after his first headed goal in the Premier League. Aguero was a menace for CSKA's defence and he had more than double the shots of any other player (eight), although he only hit the target with three of those efforts.

Sergio Aguero was clinical with two goals from three shots on target

Against a CSKA side who had kept just one clean sheet in their last 14 home games in the Champions League, City looked a permanent threat when going forward and had 10 attempts at goal before half-time, which was more than in the total match in their humiliation by Bayern (nine). City did likewise in the second half against CSKA to finish the game with 20 shots.

That meant City always looked favourites for the win, despite the occasional scare - including a dubiously disallowed Ahmed Musa effort and Joe Hart's excellent injury-time save from Honda. Toure, who - like Silva and Aguero - was also excellent versus West Ham, provided a calming influence, touching the ball on a higher number of times (101) and attempting a higher number of passes (83) than any other player on the pitch. His central midfield partnership with Fernandinho continues to click and they played an impressive total of 26 passes between each other on the night.

City therefore held on for the points and can now look forward to back-to-back home games in the Champions League in the return game with CSKA on Bonfire Night before welcoming Viktoria Plzen on 27th November. City have a great chance to reach the knockout stages for the first time and, although the doubts about playing Garcia at centre-back remain, with Silva in his current form, they have plenty of reason for optimism.

Jamie Carragher's view

"Going to hostile places in Europe, you want to get in and get out with a result. That is what City have done. City created a lot of chances but they have also had a few scares - as we saw at the end with Hart's great save. But, in Europe, you want to get the result and move on."

Pellegrini's view

"This is not the last game but it is very important. Now we play the next games at home and we can qualify if we win those games. I talked before the match with the players and said we might not win this match but we must at least not lose it because then it would be very complicated. These three points do not put us in the next round but it is an important win."

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