Bernardo Silva rediscovers old influence to gift Manchester City secret weapon in title race

Mark Critchley
·3 min read
Bernardo Silva  celebrates after he scores (POOL/AFP)
Bernardo Silva celebrates after he scores (POOL/AFP)

As the scorer of Manchester City’s breakthrough wheeled away, his impassioned celebration said it all.

It was an important goal in the context of City’s challenge in a fledgling title race, breaking Aston Villa’s resistance and putting Pep Guardiola’s side top for the first time this season, even if only for a few hours.

But it was arguably an even more important goal for Bernardo Silva himself.

Bernardo's last league goal had been back in July, one of five in a comfortable and inconsequential win at Brighton. His last in the league at the Etihad had come in an 8-0 win over Watford, not far off 18 months ago.

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“It’s been a long time since I have scored,” he admitted after the final whistle. “I’m happy to score. It doesn't matter who scores the goals but I'm happy to score today... There is still a long way to go but still, very happy.”

He was happy, in case you hadn’t noticed.

That’s not surprising. It has been a long, frustrating wait for Bernardo to return to the sort of form which saw him voted City’s player of the season in Guardiola’s second title-winning campaign.

For someone whose goal and assist totals reached double-digit figures that year, to only manage eight goals and 10 assists in 52 games last year was disappointing.

It was especially disappointing when you consider that three of those goals came in one game - that 8-0 against Watford, played in the middle of September. A day later, the controversy over his tweet to team-mate Benjamin Mendy exploded and coincided - perhaps unsurprisingly - with a barren spell of form.

Just four goals followed all season and only a strike in the League Cup semi-finals against Manchester United was of much significance. From being arguably City’s second-most influential player behind Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo began to drift towards the peripheries.

Sometimes, he was a victim of his own versatility or of City’s wider struggles to find a working system. But in the latter stages of last season’s FA Cup and Champions League runs - the ‘finals’ that Guardiola talked up throughout Project Restart and which he spent the summer working towards - he played a grand total of 24 minutes.

Bernardo Silva celebrates after he scoring the opener for CityPOOL/AFP
Bernardo Silva celebrates after he scoring the opener for CityPOOL/AFP

As the halfway point of a new season approaches, Bernardo is beginning to regain that old influence again. Having started just four of City’s first 12 league games this season, he has been trusted by Guardiola all of the last six.

All six have ended in victory and since Boxing Day’s win over Newcastle, the City manager has felt as though some of his side's old magic is returning. Bernardo is part of that.

“I said many times, he is one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever seen,” Guardiola gushed in his post-match press conference. “He can do everything in every position and I think he has the quality to score goals too.”

There was a word of warning. “He has to convince,” the City manager added, “to be more important in the final third. If you want to be a top player, when you play in the final third you have to be important, scoring goals and making clear assists.”

The overriding message, though, was of a manager who is delighted to see one of his most naturally-gifted players edging his way back into form.

Bernardo was doing himself a slight disservice in his post-match interview. It's not that long since his last goal. Wednesday’s followed a brace against Birmingham City in the FA Cup recently. Slowly but surely, he is finding his feet again and rediscovering a scoring touch.

If he can sustain this form, he may be City's secret weapon in the second half of the season. Bernardo was a key part of Guardiola’s last title win and could be a key part of the next too.

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