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Ryan Baldi: Bernardo Silva’s quiet resurgence


Ryan Baldi: Bernardo Silva’s quiet resurgence

The Portuguese star is firing again for Manchester City

RAHEEM Sterling frankly admitted recently that his lack of playing time at Manchester City could soon see him weigh up a move away from the reigning Premier League champions. But, while the England attacker might fancy a fresh challenge elsewhere, the return to form and favour this season of Bernardo Silva only goes to show how the fortunes of the Etihad’s most gifted players can undulate, and that door to Pep Guardiola’s line-up is always at least ajar.

Over the summer, it seemed as though Silva was the most readily expendable of City’s high-value stars. The Portuguse, who was signed from Monaco after the Principality club’s remarkable 2015-16 Ligue 1 title triumph, helped City secure a title in his first season in Manchester and was the breakout star of their 98-point romp to retain the crown the following term.

Silva began the 2019-20 campaign in fine fettle, too, netting a hat-trick in September’s 8-0 demolition of Watford. The very next day, though, the midfielder sparked controversy with a tweet to team-mate Benjamin Mendy. Silva found himself lumped with a misconduct charge, a one-match ban and a £50,000 fine after the FA deemed his tweet “constitutes an aggravated breach" because it referred "to race and/or colour and/or ethnic origin”.

Upon his return, Silva’s form began to dip sharply. He scored just two more league goals that season as Liverpool claimed a first league title in 30 years. It was a similar story last season, too. Despite City reclaiming domestic dominance, he scored just twice in 24 league starts, flitting between roles in midfield and on the wing, and was an unused substitute in six of the club’s last 13 top-flight fixtures.

Rumours of a switch away from the Etihad have persisted for two summers now, with Barcelona believed to have been interested in salvaging the 27-year-old as a fixer-upper project in their post-Messi rebuild. The arrival of £100m man Jack Grealish only heightened the feeling that Silva’s City days were numbered.

But, with little fanfare or fuss, Silva has been quietly outstanding for City this season. Restored to a regular position as one of the chief midfield creators alongside Kevin De Bruyne, he has produced standout performances in key games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea and has been a controlling presence at the heart of the champions’ on-ball efforts. He once again looks every bit the heir to namesake David Silva, as he’d appeared to be two seasons ago before the Spaniard’s departure.

“We know how we want him, how we love him,” Guardiola said after Silva scored and starred in City’s 2-0 victory over Burnley last weekend. “I said many times in my last press conference, I want the best of them. They have to be happy to be here to perform well and he had that feeling, but [a transfer] could not be possible.”

“I know there will be lows in this season because it’s impossible to maintain this level throughout the season, but I encourage him to be like this because I am pretty sure that playing at this level he will be happier and happier and he will enjoy being here with us.”

Silva’s performances might not have been as spectacular as those of Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah, whose tally of seven goals – plus four assists – positions him top of the Golden Boot race amid claims that he should now be considered the world’s best player. But the City playmaker has been the outstanding performer for one of the three main title contenders so far this term. With goals in wins over Leicester and Burnley, he has already matched his return for the entirety of last season.

And whether it was Guardiola’s faith in Silva that returned him to his best form or vice versa, the City manager will be glad if the transfer talk surrounding the Portuguese goes quiet next summer.

“I never forget the second Premier League we won, with 98 points, he was the best player in England,” Guardiola said earlier in the season. “He was nominated [for an award] but he was the best.

"After that season, later he dropped a little bit, he was not in the position he prefers but now he's back and hopefully he can help us.

"If, at the end, he wants to leave and decides [to go] the only thing I can say is that the guy or the club that gets Bernardo is going to take one of the best players in the world.”

 

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