The size and quality of the current Manchester City squad is such that, a long-term injury to David Silva has not hindered them from staying atop of the Barclays Premier League table and progressing to the R-16 of the UEFA Champions League. It does not, however, mean that Silva’s significance to the City squad has been lost. Disappointing results against Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United and most recently, Aston Villa, are classic examples of the difficulties a team can face when playing without their main creative man.
The likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling – City’s two expensive summer recruits – shone in the 0-0 draw at Villa Park before the ongoing international break. But, with Yaya Toure not making the desired impact in the game and Wilfried Bony, the team’s focal point of the attack, forced off with a hamstring injury, City needed someone with a calm head and ability to retain possession of the ball. And one of Silva’s strongest assets is his wherewithal to maintain possession and play those incisive passes in high-pressure circumstances. And the visitors missed him massively that day.
The Manchester Evening News recently came up with the suggestion that Toure, City’s midfield colossus, would be the one to make way for Silva, once the Spaniard returns to action. Silva, like Toure, is irreplaceable, and no way will Manuel Pellegrini sacrifice Toure who has the ability to single-handedly change the course of games.
As much as Fernandinho and Fernando Reges have shone as a double pivot or, in the recent Champions League game in Seville, where the latter played as the solitary pivot and former Shakhtar Donetsk man played alongside Toure in City’s 4-3-3, they do not carry the threat of Toure. With all due respect to the Brazilian pair, they are technicians in their own right and City have benefited, more often than not, when the duo has started together. But it is difficult to expect them to stamp their authority and run a game as Toure can. With the Ivorian, you probably do not get the desired work-rate, but his experience and ability to control games and make those penetrating, lung-bursting runs from midfield, are simply unparalleled.
The question, therefore, is: where will Silva fit in, in City’s starting XI?
Before picking up the ankle injury while playing for Spain against Luxembourg during the last international break, Silva had featured in 5 league games for the Cityzens, playing the full 90′ on two occasions. With de Bruyne also coming into the fold 4 games into City’s league campaign, the debate then was that who among this duo will play in the No.10 position. Which was never going to be a huge conundrum since both these players are highly creative and intelligent, and of course, have the nous to make space for themselves and their team mates, by making the right movements.
In the home game against Newcastle United, Silva started on the right flank, with Sterling playing slightly behind Aguero and de Bruyne playing on the left, in City’s 4-4-1-1 formation. Before being substituted on 75 minutes, Silva created 4 chances and registered a couple of assists. Aguero’s equalizer on the stroke of half-time was orchestrated by Silva. The 29-year-old played a neat one-two with Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the box before picking out Fernandinho at the back post, with the Brazilian also timing his run expertly to miss the Magpies’ offside trap and then putting the ball on a plate for the Argentine to attack. And Silva did it from City’s right-hand-side where he started in the 6-1 thrashing of Steve McClaren’s side.
The aforementioned fixture was also a classic example of Pellegrini utilizing his dynamic squad in the best way possible. Sterling started the game for City that day, but did not make the desired impact against a defensive-minded away side. He had completed 95% of his passes, but failed to complete his solitary take-on attempt and his solitary shot on goal, was also blocked. He was very ineffective. So, although Aguero attained parity for City at half-time, the Chilean replaced the 20-year-old Englishman with Navas. The Spanish winger took his customary right-wing position, with de Bruyne sticking to the position, left-wing, which he occupied from the start. Silva, as City’s main creative man, moved into a central position, from where he linked up with de Bruyne for City’s 6th goal on the evening.
Pellegrini has become flexible with his tactics this season, and made astute team selections, as well, already. In the Champions League game in Seville, he handed a start to Sterling while de Bruyne was rested and put on the bench. The 24-year-old Belgian had started and played in 10 consecutive games across all competitions, and Pellegrini, with the squad at his disposal, decided to give him a rest. Therefore, the Chilean is also deserving of credit for the audacity he exuded in resting who had been his most in-form player, and that too, for such a pivotal European away fixture.
When Silva is fit, it is safe to say that Pellegrini will start him and the Spaniard will play in one of the three positions behind the striker. City will, in all probability, not lineup in the 4-3-3, as they did in Seville, with Silva in their starting XI or whenever he is on the pitch.
Navas and Sterling will be the ones who get rotated, as they did in the home game against McClaren’s side. Toure and Fernandinho will continue to be City’s midfielders. Fernando’s chances could also become limited once Silva returns to action, since Toure would play alongside Fernandinho while Silva may well be flanked by de Bruyne and Sterling.