Pep Guardiola has said the Portuguese playmaker is ‘a joy’ to coach and one of the best players in England this season
Bernardo Silva’s status with Pep Guardiola is clear. “I love him,” says Manchester City’s manager, who last month warned Kevin De Bruyne that while injured he had lost his place to the Portuguese.
To inform City’s best player of last season that he has a fight to be selected over Silva illustrates just how good the Lisbon-born playmaker has been. At 24 Silva is the future and present of City, a player Guardiola can play in at least four positions.
Silva has actually operated in five: as a winger, wing-back, central midfielder, false No 9 and trequartista, which his manager views as Silva’s best position. It is unclear where he will be deployed for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Chelsea.
“I think as a No 10 behind the striker [is his natural game] but as a winger he can move inside, stay wide, he can play in all positions in the middle, attacking positions – he can play three or four positions,” Guardiola says.
Guardiola points to Silva’s personality as being as much of a revelation as his play, with this reflected in the smile and time the former Monaco player has for the media, often stopping to talk after a game.
“He knows when he doesn’t play good,” says his manager. “But he’s nearly always an eight or a nine. You cannot play every single game every three days at the top level but he runs and runs. Maybe this season he’s been one or two of the best players in the Premier League.
“Look at how he celebrates the goals with his teammates; he’s a joy,” continued Guardiola. “I’m an incredibly lucky guy to have him in my hands. He enjoys every training session and game. Portugal is fortunate to have him – the manager will use him every game. I love him, it’s simple like that.”
Guardiola has cited how Silva does not “pull a face” if not selected. Along with De Bruyne, he is also competing with David Silva, Fernandinho, Ilkay Gündogan, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané, and the player’s own perspective on the battle for a starting berth mirrors that of the manager.
Silva says: “I think all of us work very hard to try and play as much as possible. We know it is not easy sometimes because the squad has fantastic players and we just push each other to try and get better and at the end of it Pep decides and we have to accept his decisions.”
For Portugal Silva now outshines Cristiano Ronaldo, according to Guardiola. Asked whether Silva is Portugal’s next big star, the City manager is unequivocal. “He’s the biggest star already,” he says. “He’s a lovely person. I love to work with him – he always has a big smile. The most beloved in the locker room, he has everything, one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen.”
Silva’s numbers back Guardiola’s stance. De Bruyne’s season has been blighted by two serious knee injuries but Silva’s form means his absence has been felt far less than it might.
He has featured in all but one of City’s league games this season, his 2,075 minutes second only to Fernandinho’s 2,173. The 47 chances engineered are only two behind David Silva and Bernardo’s 281.9km (175.1 miles) covered is the highest by far of his central midfield cohorts; Fernandinho is next with 259.8km (164.3 miles). As Guardiola’s arch-destroyer Fernandinho’s 52 tackles can be expected to be the highest but Bernardo Silva’s 35 are nearly twice as many as David Silva’s 19, and the Portuguese has five goals compared with the Spaniard’s six.
David Silva was 33 last month and Guardiola has started to rest him occasionally. Bernardo’s emergence into a major force solves the headache of who can replace the Spaniard when his powers finally wane.