When discussion turns to the most important player in Manchester City’s most recent memory, there is a list of predictable candidates. Sergio Aguero has helped elevate the club from project to superpower. Yaya Toure has ensured that they have become a force to be reckoned with. Vincent Kompany continues to provide a window into how far City have come in such a short space of time. Wilfried Bony acts as a sobering reminder that money does not guarantee success.
None have played a more integral role than David Silva. Signed from Valencia in summer 2010, the Spaniard has been the one constant amid an era of change in Manchester. When Aguero has struggled with injuries, Silva has shouldered the burden. When Toure has battled against inconsistencies, Silva has stepped up. When Kompany has been missing, Silva has provided leadership. Where £28million Bony has failed in every sense to live up to his price tag, the £24million spent on Silva has been repaid time and time and time again.
The midfielder’s importance to the cause has rarely been more conspicuous than in this season. Manuel Pellegrini’s extended swansong continues to threaten a descent into insignificance, something which a 0-0 draw with Norwich does nothing to mitigate. The 30-year-old made 105 passes – at least 20 more than any other player. He had 127 touches – at least ten more than any other player. He Spaniard made four key passes – no other player made more than one. Silva created opportunities, but his team-mates let him down. Again.
It is no coincidence that City’s struggles correlate with Silva’s battle against injuries. “David is coming back from a long – I can’t say an injury because it is a pain in his ankle,” said manager Manuel Pellegrini earlier this month. “He is trying to improve as much as he can, but he continues to play not 100 percent comfortably. He is still feeling the pain.”
And yet the Chilean is still playing him. Silva himself described his time spent on the sidelines as “frustrating” back in January, but his manager has merely compounded the problems. Much as Aguero and Kompany were not afforded recovery time before him, Silva has been asked to play as soon as he has returned to training. After a summer in which he failed to adequately strengthen his side, Pellegrini has no-one else to blame. And after a January where he continued to overlook the problem, it becomes obvious as to why City did not seek to renew his deal at the Etihad Stadium.
When Jamie Redknapp and Thierry Henry can pinpoint where your tactics are failing, you know there is a problem. The message from the Sky Sports pundits at half-time at Carrow Road was simple: Get Silva in central positions. The injured Spaniard featured out of position on the left wing in the first half, yet still created four chances; no other player created more in the full 90 minutes.
Most alarming for City is how Norwich decided to deal with their star man. Within four minutes, Silva was the recipient of a particularly robust challenge from Canaries captain Russell Martin. Ryan Bennett was booked for a similarly full-blooded tackle 20 minutes later. The Spaniard found himself both isolated and targeted in the first period.
David Silva’s touches so far. pic.twitter.com/SK4YBaPav4
— City Watch (@City_Watch) March 12, 2016
Raheem Sterling’s introduction for Bony midway through the second half allowed Silva more freedom, but, despite the Spaniard’s best efforts, Norwich stood firm. With no viable alternative to Silva in the squad, another tireless 90 minutes is unlikely to aid his recovery.
Nine players have played more minutes in the Premier League than Silva this season. The same number have started more league games. Jesus Navas has featured for just 23 fewer minutes. But Silva has contributed more combined goals and assists than any City player aside from Aguero and Sterling. Only Mesut Ozil and Riyad Mahrez have provided more assists throughout the whole league, and both have enjoyed much more regular game time. Just six players have created more goalscoring chances, despite all playing considerably more often.
Silva is struggling with injuries, but it is not necessarily the midfielder who is out of form, it is his team-mates. The former Valencia man created 2.7 and 3.1 chances per game in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. This campaign, that tally is 3.2. He is having the same amount of shots, completing a similar amount of dribbles and making a similar amount of passes. But while Silva has remained consistent, his team-mates have regressed.
Silva is the most important player in Manchester City’s recent history, but he will surely play a massive part in their future, too. While Aguero is discussing his departure, Toure is expected to leave and Kompany is struggling to regain his form, incoming boss Pep Guardiola could conceivably look to build a dynasty around Silva. And it won’t be with him on the left wing.