Saturday, 1 January 2011

Silva finding his feet at City

It is often hard to make conclusions from the festive football period in England. With players understandably physically and mentally tired from playing four games in 10 days results often come down to a survival of the fittest or, as results over the past week have shown, to those with the biggest squad.

However, Manchester City's three wins over the past six days have demonstrated the increasing influence of one La Liga old boy. After a disjointed beginning to his City career, David Silva is starting to show his full range of abilities.

For Saturday's 1-0 win over Blackpool, City manager Roberto Mancini started all three of Silva, Carlos Tevez and Adam Johnson, who scored the game’s solitary goal, for only the second time in the league this season. For onlookers who have waited for the Italian to give this, his most creative, triumvirate a start it made for an interesting spectacle.

Silva undoubtedly adds another dimension to City’s play. He is the sole player amongst a near billion pound squad with the ability to play as an old-fashioned number 10, behind the main striker. For the past three years I have maintained that his old teammate David Villa is the world’s best striker (assuming you don’t class Leo Messi as an out and out striker). However, Villa would not nearly have hit the same heights at Valencia without his namesake playing just behind him. Given more time to gel Tevez could similarly take advantage of this supply line, although there is the question of whether the Argentine and Silva are truly compatible given the former’s tendency to drop deep and into the same positions that the Spaniard likes to occupy.

Some critics have also argued that Silva is too lightweight to play this central position in the Premier League. Thankfully in recent weeks these fears have been dispelled, particularly after a stellar performance in the 4-0 win over Aston Villa. The man from the Canaries again demonstrated why even some in the English press have fallen in love with the Spanish tiki-taka style. BBC Radio 5live’s John Murray describing Silva’s performance as “the essence of the Spanish World Cup winning side”.

Indeed Silva arguably made the greatest sacrifice of his football career so far when signing for City. By concluding his transfer from Valencia during the World Cup, specifically against coach Vicente Del Bosque’s orders for no deals to be concluded during that period, Silva was dropped from the starting XI after the loss to Switzerland and only made a brief cameo during the semi-final against Germany in La Roja’s run to World Cup glory.

Ideally for those who want to see Silva thrive in the Premier League he will be permanently deployed in the central attacking-midfield role in a 4-2-3-1, with Johnson on one side and either James Milner or Mario Balotelli (after all he is the second best player in the world – at least in his own head) on the other.

However, Mancini has been reticent to deploy Silva and Johnson together for any length of time this season, indeed many see them as playing in the same ‘inverted winger’ on the right-side position. But that is to miss Silva’s greatest quality as a central player slightly off the main striker. Johnson is quite the opposite, a winger who likes to start wide, pull the full-back out and away from the centre-backs and then run in behind to expose that space. Silva is the most capable of finding these runs with defence splitting passes, as Jonhson’s goal against West Ham recently demonstrated (at 1.30)

Mancini has often been labeled as a negative coach. His decision to continue with Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure behind Silva, Johnson and Tevez against Blackpool is testament to that accusation. Indeed playing these six together tends to unbalance the side with Silva nominally chosen as the wide-left player in a 4-3-3 but moving inside so regularly that Barry has to move from a central position to cover the left-side when City lose the ball. This inbalance can leave City vulnerable to attacks by opposition full-backs

In any case any chance of seeing Silva playing in his natural position more often may be scuppered completely with the imminent arrival of Edin Dzeko to Eastlands. Presumably Dzeko will play as the furthest forward in a front two with Tevez, the Argentine then dropping deeper to play in the role Silva has been playing. This would in all likelihood force Silva to play more from a wider position and further limit Johnson’s opportunities in the first-team.

Dzeko may provide a more physical presence, but his and Tevez’s opportunities will be curtailed if Silva and Jonson’s ammunition is ultimately sacrificed.

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