Manchester City: David Silva shows City’s strength behind the style
The Spaniard scored twice on Monday to continue his excellent run of form, despite difficulties in his personal life.
It is becoming abundantly clear that Manchester City are one of the finest sides the Premier League – perhaps even all of English football – has ever seen.
With every inevitable victory, Pep Guardiola inches his side closer not only to the title but Chelsea’s 95-point record and the prospect of reaching the 100-point mark, hitherto unthinkable in the supposed most competitive league in the world.
There are plenty of different explanations for City’s remarkable dominance. For some, it is proof of Guardiola’s coaching genius; for others, proof of the relative decline in real quality of the rest of the top six; and for others, Guardiola may as well have folded up TV game-show novelty cheques into the shape of footballers and sent them out onto the pitch.
Substance to back up the style
Whatever the origin, there is little doubt that City are capable of playing some astonishing football. With Kevin De Bruyne orchestrating a legion of brilliantly bite-size attackers in front of him, every touch, pass, and shot comes with a delicacy that speaks volumes about Guardiola’s vision of footballing utopia.
With their style, though, comes the expectation in some circles that old-school English values can trump their complicated European ways. Teams like this – the Arsenals, the Barcelonas of the world – they don’t like it up ’em. You might not outplay them but you can outfight them.
But, as if it needed to be underlined any more clearly, City proved at the bet365 Stadium that they are more than your average pass-and-move-and-hope-they-don’t-bring-on-a-big-striker side.
They can do it on a cold Monday night at Stoke. They can do it with extraordinary ease. The most potent symbol of this is their most delicate player, who put the finishing touch to both of their excellent goals to ensure three more points on the board.
Silva puts personal troubles to one side
David Silva has seen plenty of highs and lows during his time becoming Manchester City’s greatest player, but none of the on-field troubles he has experienced in the North West will have compared to the emotional ardour of the past few months.
He has been absent for a number of matches since the end of December, allowed compassionate leave to spend time with his family in Spain after his baby son was born prematurely.
Though Silva says that baby Mateo is “fighting… getting stronger, getting better”, it will have been a source of constant anxiety for the player for the past three months, and his unrelenting positivity and quality on the pitch since returning to the side is testament to a remarkable level of mental toughness which players of his ilk are not traditionally known for.
Yet, when you look more closely through City’s ranks, it is clear that their mental strength has been a significant factor in their remarkable season thus far.
Mental strength throughout the team
Silva’s inspiring form in the face of adversity is not the only example of this. His namesake Bernardo has similarly been in superb form of late, grasping his opportunity after what must have been a disheartening start to life at the Etihad, forced to the bench by the form of Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling.
Sergio Agüero is on course for the most prolific season of his career despite doubts about his future at the club and Guardiola’s apparent desire to replace him with Gabriel Jesus, who has also looked in good form despite admitting anxieties since returning from injury ahead of the World Cup.
Vincent Kompany’s triumphant roar in the Carabao Cup final was proof of the ecstasy of his comeback from yet another physically and mentally draining injury, while Ederson has avoided the traditional jitters of a young goalkeeper starting life in the Premier League to be talked about as one of the signings of the season.
Raheem Sterling has enjoyed the season of his life despite the constant desire of significant sections of the media and public to see him fail. All this without even mentioning John Stones’ balls.
For all the talk of their quality and style, City are built on firm mental foundations. They are hardier than they appear, and Monday night’s game was yet another confirmation of this.
Stoke played long balls, they brought on Peter Crouch, they hurled long throws into the penalty area, and the closest they came to scoring was Kyle Walker’s accidental pinpoint lob towards his own top corner which Ederson back-pedalled to tip away from danger.
Passing the test
In conquering the Potters on their own fabled turf, they have passed the English top flight’s litmus test of true quality.
Selhurst Park, Turf Moor, and Anfield are the only castles to have stood against their unrelenting siege on the Premier League this season, and their fiercest rivals Manchester United could be forced to attend their coronation at the Etihad next month.
City have not merely strolled their way to the top of the table. They have fought their way there too, and done so with real heart.
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