Manchester City recovered from a 3-2 loss against Tottenham Hotspur with a late 1-0 win against Everton on Saturday afternoon, but the attacking performance was not at its free-flowing best. One reason might be a slight tactical change from Pep Guardiola – moving Bernardo Silva into the front three.
The Portuguese international has been influential for City this season, scoring ten times across all competitions, with his all-round play a driving force behind the club’s charge to the top of the Premier League table.
If City are to maintain their current six-point lead and walk away with their fourth league triumph in five seasons, they will need Silva on top of his game.
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It’s obvious that the 27-year-old is Guardiola’s go-to man. Silva has started 26 Premier League games this season – the most of any outfield player in the City squad. His role in midfield has even seen the reliable Ilkay Gundogan play a reduced role, only starting 15 times.
However, despite his consistent brilliance in midfield, Guardiola has been trialling Silva in an unfamiliar position in these past few weeks – the dreaded false nine role.
Raheem Sterling has tried it, Phil Foden has tried it, so too has Kevin De Bruyne – each with their own degree of success. However, the technical ability Silva possesses is maybe unparalleled in the City squad and that may be the most important trait of a false nine – hence Guardiola’s experiment.
He played in the middle of Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling on both occasions, with Gundogan and De Bruyne the two supporting the attacks from midfield. With Spurs’ five-at-the-back, it looked like Guardiola wanted to squeeze every technical midfielder he could into the side – but you could clearly see it was not working.
Silva was isolated for the entirety of the game. Even switching with Foden at half-time, the Portuguese midfielder could not influence the game like he usually does in a deeper role.
That was a similar story in the narrow victory over Everton, Guardiola stook with the same front five and watched them struggle to find their usual rhythm against a packed defence.
Although Foden won City the game – very late into the contest – the general consensus amongst the fanbase was that Silva is wasted in the forward line and they would much rather see him back in his familiar midfield role.
Silva will always be a goal threat, especially cutting onto his left foot, but his sense of sniffing out an opportunity may not be as sharp as Guardiola’s other options.
Foden’s goal was a perfect example of just that. The 21-year-old sensed the panic in the Everton backline, was composed enough to take a touch and slotted it past Jordan Pickford.
Will he persist with his tactical shuffle, or revert back to type and have one of the world’s best midfielders, back in midfield.
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