“When I say I’m a lucky guy, it’s because I was with Xavi, Iniesta and now with Silva. All three are outstanding players” – Pep Guardiola.
For a coach so obsessed with dominating possession, you can hardly imagine a more emphatic compliment than being associated with the two best exponents of Barcelona’s tiki-taka football under Guardiola. Silva is 31, but you would be hard pushed to find a player more crucial to Manchester City’s success. Scratch that: it is the impossible task.
For all the compliments in that Guardiola quote, and he went on to mention Silva’s adaptation to English football, Manchester City’s manager actually urged more from his playmaker: “I always said he had to score more goals because if Silva scored more goals you cannot imagine what he would have been because he has absolutely everything else – the quality, the mentality, and a great competitor.”
Good timing, then. City require three home victories from three games to rubberstamp their Champions League place, and Silva scored their opening goal as Guardiola’s team again showcased their attacking dominance but failed to fully take advantage. Watching them in this mood, it isn’t hard to see how one or two arrivals could see them click into fifth gear.
If Guardiola has a point about Silva’s lack of goals (this was the first time he has scored the opening goal of a Premier League game since the first day of last season), it is praise through faint damnation. Silva has dropped deeper this season following the arrival of Leroy Sane – with Kevin De Bruyne playing as a No. 10 – but it has hardly blunted his attacking prowess. Only three Premier League players have created more chances.
In fact, the move has improved Silva rather than hampered him. His role is to recycle possession, collect the ball from central defender or defensive midfielder and start counter attacks, venturing further forward when the opposition has dropped deep to try and create overlaps.
It is hard to imagine a player more suited to that role. You could watch Silva receive the ball, open his body, shimmy one way and then another before stroking a pass with his left instep on loop from now until the start of the new season and not be bored.
There is an argument that this role leaves City less defensively sound, and the goals against column gives that view credence. Yet injury to Ilkay Gundogan and the use of Fernandinho as a supplementary full-back proves that it would be worth persevering with more effective cover next season. That doesn’t include Yaya Toure’s tiring legs.
What isn’t in doubt is Silva’s place in Guardiola’s first-choice team, whatever the overhaul of the playing squad this summer. If anything, supporters are concerned at just how integral their Spanish magician is to making City tick. He is virtually irreplaceable.
Understated and less marketable than most other players in his position, we are probably all guilty of underestimating just how complete a midfielder Silva is. “I’m not even sure that someone like David Silva fits into Guardiola’s system: the speed, tenacity and pressing the ball. You’re carrying him,” said Danny Murphy on the BBC in February 2016. He has been misinterpreted before, and will be again. Guardiola certainly considers him a fighter as well as an artist, Manchester City’s perfect blend of aesthetics and athletics.