Premier League

Bernardo The Perfect Heir To The Silva Throne

 • by Andrew Gibney
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For Tuesday’s Champions League group game with Feyenoord, Manchester City, despite already being through to the knockout stage, were expected to win. Settling for anything less isn’t acceptable.

On a 16-game winning streak the pressure was on the home side to put in another performance in front of a rightfully demanding crowd.

Pep Guardiola made a couple of changes, resting David Silva and Fernandinho, bringing in Ilkay Gündogan and Yaya Touré into the midfield and Bernardo Silva came into the right of the attack.

Emerging 1-0 winners, it was far from a vintage display from City, but they still extended that winning run to 17 matches.

For Guardiola the game was a chance to test out the future – with Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz making appearances off the bench – while also giving the lesser used members of his squad valuable game time.

It meant David Silva was, essentially, given the night off as he was an unused substitute. The Spaniard has been in scintillating form this season and looks as good as ever despite now being 31 years old.

But it helps to have a Plan B and that is what Guardiola tested out against the Dutch side.

Gündogan was named in the midfield three, playing to the left of Touré, but it’s the man who took up the right-wing role who is the perfect long-time successor to City’s little magician.

Gündogan is a great option, but he doesn’t have the same profile as either Silva. The former Dortmund midfielder is more bullish and, after making his name as deep-lying playmaker at Borussia Dortmund, he’s been used in a more box-to-box role at the Etihad.

The German has a power that the two Silvas do not possess, and he also has the skill and weight of pass to provide the killer touch.

You wouldn’t play Bernardo and David in the same midfield, you always need that balance, but in the same sense, without a player of their mould, the City midfield often lacked a spark of magic against Feyenoord.

So when Kevin De Bruyne came off for Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo was dropped back to take over the deeper position. You could instantly see the comfort and freedom he gained.

Bernardo Silva's passing and movement

Comfortable dropping the shoulder and beating defenders, his one-touch passing was excellent and he glided around the pitch almost effortlessly.

Being younger than his Spanish counter-part, he still has an element of pace to his game which, like De Bruyne, allows him to push up the park. But, mostly, he’ll keep things simple and continue to pass and move until an opportunity presents itself.

Be it little one-twos, twisting and turning until a better option presents itself or combining with a full-back, Bernardo has the full package.

And when Benjamin Mendy returns, Guardiola could easily combine the former team-mates together and build a devastating partnership down the City left, with someone like Leroy Sané ahead of them reaping the benefits.

Bernardo works perfectly with full-backs

In the still above, Bernardo links effortlessly with Kyle Walker, giving the right-back time and space to push down the flank.

Yet, the Portuguese likes to mix things up, and it’s when he holds up the ball, delays the pass and cuts inside when you see his similarities to David Silva.

The return pass to Walker is probably the easiest option, but it’s early in the match, so the Portugal international fakes and turns to his right, opening up the pitch and giving Feyenoord a little hint that wouldn’t be an easy night.

Compared to Raheem Sterling or Sané, Bernardo doesn’t have the same blistering pace to destroy full-backs with speed alone, it’s in the middle of the park he works his magic.

He combines a neat first-touch, great vision and similar guile to City’s original Silva. Making him the perfect fit to replace the Spain international in the years ahead.

When City pipped Manchester United to his signature, it was unclear where he would fit in the team, but in Guardiola’s 4-3-3, with two attacking options playing ahead of a defensive midfielder, there are distinct elements of how he played for Monaco, which allowed him to blossom.

There should be no doubts in Guardiola’s mind on whether it would leave either full-back exposed if Bernardo is in the midfield, his defensive work was as good as anyone last term.

Bernardo Silva

In Ligue 1, as Monaco went on to lift the title, the Portuguese midfielder, who played on the right of the 4-4-2 won 1.3 tackles per game, averaged 0.7 interceptions and 0.4 clearances and only committed 0.7 fouls.

This season, David Silva is winning one tackle, making 0.8 interceptions and 0.4 clearances. It’s a part of the game which is needed in that role, and one Bernardo can do very well.

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Guardiola, unless you count Fabian Delph, couldn’t name any defenders on the bench for Tuesday’s game. It suggests that, with a couple of key injuries, the City squad perhaps isn’t as strong and deep as some may think.

However, when City have players like Gündogan, who is able to play in many different midfield roles, and Bernardo Silva, a talent who could start in the midfield or attack, Guardiola is gifted with versatility.

So when he brought on Gabriel Jesus, the City boss was able to shuffle has pack without true disruption – something which better than having a huge squad. Players can find minutes and become accustomed to different roles within the side.

Eventually, one sad day, David Silva will no longer roam the Manchester City attack, but in Bernardo they have a ready-made replacement.

If City had shaved his head for Tuesday’s win over Feyenoord, at times, fans would’ve been convinced it was the Spaniard and not the summer signing who was pulling the strings at the Etihad.

One day for Bernardo, all of that responsibility will be his.

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