Bernardo Silva in action against Chelsea
He was on the Stamford Bridge pitch as a quirk of circumstance, but departed it as the standout player in a match that served as a marker for what will be required of title challengers this season.
Had the pandemic not depressed the market in the large, Bernardo Silva would have exited Manchester City for top European shores anew this summer.
Instead, with no suitable options nor offers, he has been Pep Guardiola’s titan in crucial victories over Leicester and Chelsea.
Saturday’s showing at Stamford Bridge was art: a mesh of tenacity, intelligence, anticipation and tactical efficiency.
Guardiola used Silva as a holder to complement the anchoring Rodri in midfield as a way to stifle Chelsea’s trio of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, while ensuring City colonised the ball.
The 27-year-old was immense as the visitors executed their blueprint both in and out of possession, with him triggering the high press that ensured Thomas Tuchel’s side were penned in and forced too deep.
Silva’s heatmap is a picture of tireless running and tempo-setting. No player contested more duels and only Joao Cancelo managed more touches. He made the most clearances, tackles and the second most recoveries after Rodri.
“What a performance!” Guardiola enthused. “He’s so intuitive. It’s not his role as a holding midfielder, but he knows exactly how to play it and how to anticipate what is going to happen, with the ball or without the ball.”
The manager reminded that no-one should be surprised by Silva’s contributions, but that is precisely why it is a poser that he is not a guaranteed starter for City.
“Against Norwich, he played exceptional,” Guardiola said. “Against Arsenal, he played exceptional, Southampton he played at the level of the team – that was not good, our build-up was not good.
“How well he played is no surprise. How many times have we seen it? How many times? He was an incredible signing for us, because he’s an exceptional person. I never forget the Premier League title we won with 98 points, he was the best player in England.
“After that season, later he dropped a little bit, he was not in the position 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.
“All I want is for Bernardo to be happy, here or anywhere. All I want is his happiness because he’s a guy that deserves the best.”
City’s rivals – domestically and on the continent – would have hoped to see the back of him given his habit of being golden in decisive games.
He may ultimately still leave, but until he does, Guardiola has one hell of a player with perpetual work ethic to bank on.
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