A Regular Position Is Required to Bring Out the Best in Bernardo Silva

Nov 18, 2020, 3:30 PM GMT
Bernardo Silva
Bernardo Silva has had a rough 18 months for club and country | Pool/Getty Images

When Bernardo Silva joined Manchester City from Monaco in 2017, many believed the club had signed one of the best right wingers in the game.

Silky dribbling, a killer final pass and the ability to repeatedly succeed in one-on-one situations meant that he was linked with a host of top sides; having been influential in the Ligue 1 side making the Champions League semi-finals.

His first season at the Etihad Stadium played out as expected too. Silva was an integral part of the Centurions side that won the Premier League and EFL Cup, playing 53 times across all competitions - more than any other City player.

Fernandinho, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Nicolas Otamendi
Silva made the most appearances of any City player during the Centurions season | Michael Regan/Getty Images

That form saw many regard him as a truly world class player, and no longer one who had performed superbly at a slightly lower level.

During that successful season, Silva primarily operated on the right wing, but also as one of Pep Guardiola's central midfield playmakers. In his second season, multiple injuries to star man Kevin De Bruyne saw the creative burden fall on the Portuguese international - and it was a burden and responsibility that he thrived on.

City brought in Riyad Mahrez from Leicester to add additional depth to Guardiola's wing options, and Silva flourished from playing centrally often; arguably it was his greatest season to date.

Silva was the shining light in a City side that managed to defend their title against a scarily strong Liverpool side, winning the Premier League on the final day of the season after a colossal back and forth battle. 13 goals in 51 appearances, as well as 14 assists, made it the most productive season of his time in England too.

Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva
Silva's best season came after Mahrez's arrival when he played in a mostly central role | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

But since then, Silva's form has dropped off a cliff.

Guardiola's rotation tactics have seemingly taken their toll on the 26-year-old and over the last 18 months or so, his form has deteriorated to a point where his position for both club and country are under threat.

Silva has primarily been plonked back out on the right wing after De Bruyne's return to fitness and that move has halted his productivity. In a league where physicality is so important, it's not a surprise to see the nimble-footed lefty struggling to impose himself.

He still has top drawer ability, that much is clear, but it's evident that a player with his physique and playing style is better suited to a central position in this day and age. When David Silva left the club in the summer, many were hopeful it would see the return of Silva into that position where he shone.

Instead, Silva has continued to be deployed out wide as Guardiola has opted to experiment with De Bruyne in a more advanced position, ahead of Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan in a holding role.

The emergence of Phil Foden at City has also highlighted Silva's dip, and now his position in the Portugal national team is in jeopardy - owing to the emergence of Diogo Jota, Francisco Trincão and Joao Felix among others.

Under Fernando Santos, Silva has been an established starter since their Euro 2016 success, but his lack of consistency has seen fans of the national team call for new talent to be tried and tested ahead of next summer's rescheduled edition.

Diogo Jota's move to Liverpool has put pressure on Bernardo Silva at international level too | CLIVE BRUNSKILL/Getty Images

Silva's talent is undeniable and he is one of the most technically gifted footballers in the Premier League right now. But unless he gets his performances back on track, and finds his identity, he runs the risk of drifting away from the spotlight that his ability deserves to be showcased in.

That said, since 2017, Silva has barely had a rest. That summer he played in the Confederations Cup, participated in the 2018 World Cup the following year, before featuring regularly as Portugal won the inaugural Nations League. This year, well, speaks for itself.

In an ideal world, Silva would be rested for a short period in order to recover. He looks more tired and laboured in possession and almost as if he's lost a yard of pace. He's also become a less decisive player in the final third.

Portugal won the UEFA Nations League in 2019
Portugal won the UEFA Nations League in 2019 | VI-Images/Getty Images

During 2018/19, Silva averaged two key passes per game in the Premier League and 1.4 in the Champions League. In 2019/20, those figures dipped rather drastically to just 1.5 key passes per Premier League game and 0.6 in the Champions League. So far this season, they've dropped even further - although granted we're still early on - to a meagre 0.2 key passes per Premier League game and 0.3 in the Champions League.

In a side competing on all fronts it's hard for him to be rested because of the sheer volume of games, so another option could be to just pick a position for him and stick to it.

Being in and out of the side is hard enough to find a rhythm but when you're regularly being played in a different position, momentum and form are hard to come by.

Josep Guardiola, Bernardo Silva - Soccer Midfielder
Guardiola knows that getting Silva back to his best could be a game changer in the title race | Visionhaus/Getty Images

For Guardiola and Santos, they're surely both aware that Bernardo Silva in top form makes their team better. They need to work with the player to establish exactly what the best way is to make him rediscover the form that made him one of the best players in the world.