Bernardo Silva was earmarked as David Silva’s successor at Manchester City and impressed against Arsenal… the creative pickpocket has improved after a tough third season and can ease the burden on Kevin de Bruyne

  • Bernardo Silva starred in Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Arsenal on Saturday 
  • The playmaker was tipped as David Silva’s successor and played in a similar role
  • Silva endured a tough third season but now appears visibly happier in himself 
  • City need players to pick up Kevin de Bruyne’s burden and Silva can be that man 

When Bernardo Silva hopped off his jet in 2017, sporting pink shorts at odds with a drizzly Manchester, he wore the look of another diminutive creative midfielder who had just lifted the World Cup and arrived hungover seven years prior.

Around Manchester City, they earmarked the Portuguese in beach gear as the one who would eventually take over from David Silva. A little scuttling pickpocket who also owns the combination to the opposition’s safe, someone stronger than his frame suggests and with the attitude to rough it in England.

That is where he was on Saturday night. Bang in the middle of it, patrolling from Silva’s old station. City supporters have not seen him there regularly, a product of his encouraging first season out on the right wing and then a stunning second, perfecting that wide role in the front three.

Playmaker Bernardo Silva was earmarked to eventually replace David Silva at Manchester City

Playmaker Bernardo Silva was earmarked to eventually replace David Silva at Manchester City

Yet his third was disappointing, Silva unable to scale the heights that saw Pep Guardiola suggest he really ought to have collected personal prizes as City defended their Premier League crown. This was Silva’s first start since July 21 – eight games ago – and he was overlooked for the Champions League aberration against Lyon, remaining an unused substitute.

His absence in that fixture would have been unthinkable a year earlier. Silva worked the hardest, ran the most of any attacker in the division. Last term was different.

‘When we won four domestic titles he was incredible, then in the Nations League he was the best player with Portugal,’ Guardiola said. ‘But he didn’t have time to refresh, (physically) exhausted and his mind was exhausted. He struggled.’

Silva played in a deeper role against Arsenal, in a similar style to his former Etihad team-mate

Silva played in a deeper role against Arsenal, in a similar style to his former Etihad team-mate

Pep Guardiola admitted Silva struggled after returning from the Nations League 'exhausted'

Pep Guardiola admitted Silva struggled after returning from the Nations League ‘exhausted’

The mental side of his form’s deterioration was something City had noticed early on in the 2019-20 campaign. The friendly demeanour was less frequent, obvious long before the furore that surrounded his ill-advised tweet sent to Benjamin Mendy. There can be things going on privately that have a larger bearing than we might imagine.

‘Some players from the other countries struggle with the routine after a while,’ one source reasoned recently. ‘It happens. He loves Manchester, he loves the squad, but the third year was difficult. He wanted to do everything and he was always there pushing but the mood in himself felt a little different.’

That has certainly improved in recent weeks, even after injury during the September international break thwarted his start. Silva appears to possess a little more vibrancy at the moment, happier within himself. Whether it is for the good or bad, that translates on the pitch.

Silva looks notably happier after a difficult third season and can ease Kevin de Bruyne's burden

Silva looks notably happier after a difficult third season and can ease Kevin de Bruyne’s burden

Somebody with a bit of dynamism and energy in midfield is exactly what Guardiola has craved over the opening month. They are too reliant on Kevin De Bruyne right now and the Belgian requires additional creative help when he returns from his muscle fatigue problem.

There were signs against Arsenal that Silva can be that man, particularly when Guardiola plays with a more conventional three in midfield. He can glide through games and, as a left-footer, offers more balance. 

Mendy nicknamed him Picasso and City do need someone other than De Bruyne to pick up the paintbrush every so often.

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