Three simple short passes between Mendy, Sterling and Agüero. A quick pass to Fernandinho who switches back to Walker. Again, City moves the ball in their back-three. Laporte moves forward with the ball. Tac, City is between the lines of Manchester United. After a quick layoff pass, Agüero has the ball and faces the goal of Mourinho´s team. The man who played the layoff pass was none other than David Silva. The Spanish captain played a remarkable game against their biggest rival Manchester United. Not only scored he the first goal of the evening he was also the key to many offensive actions of Manchester City.
Silently conducting his teammates showing them where they have to stand to be effective. Although, everyone sees the Spanish midfielder as one of the crucial parts of Pep Guardiola´s winning team he often doesn´t get that much recognition. Next, to great players like Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero or John Stones, David Silva often seems to be overlooked. However, his abilities are essential for the success of Manchester City. Against their hometown rival, he again showed up big time and helped his team to win the derby at home.
But, what makes David Silva so special? And how did he manage to hurt Manchester United on this Sunday afternoon?
Individual brilliance – the perfect player for Guardiola
When you watch David Silva play you quickly see that David Silva is the perfect fit for Guardiola´s playing style. As one of the last of Spain´s great generation who still performs regularly on the highest-level Silva brought his game to the next level when Guardiola arrived. In the positional play of Manchester City, his usage of his abilities gets maximised while the Spanish midfielder from Gran Canaria finds himself in the perfect spaces to perform.
Clearly, David Silva has a remarkable technic. He controls the ball easily with the first touch which makes him hard to press in the first place. The ball is always close to Silva´s foot which allows him to change direction quickly. Due to the superior ball control, he can easily surround opponents and therefore secure the ball under pressure. But, as we all know, dribbling is not all about technic. Without the right decision making a dribbler is just not a good dribbler.
Luckily, David Silva has a high football IQ. He rarely makes wrong decision even under pressure. His feeling for positioning of defenders and teammates gets him into space which hurts the defence most. Usually, he prefers the left halfspace between defensive and midfield-line. The game against Manchester United was no exception to that. He constantly turns his head to increase his field of perception and allows him to spot open space and bad positioning of defenders and teammates.
Ultimately, David Silva is not only valuable for Pep Guardiola because of his own footballing abilities. Furthermore, Silva conducts a lot on the pitch, showing his teammates where to go and which spaces to occupy. The accurate positioning is only possible when players coach each other on the pitch as well. David Silva seems to think the game one step ahead and often shows his teammates where the ball has to travel next. He isn´t the player who always wants to have the ball. Moreover, Silva often opens space for his colleagues to give them the possibility to create chances.
David Silva, the strategical central midfielders
David Silva is also very valuable during the first phase of City´s game. The Spanish midfielder sometimes drops deeper when the opponent presses higher. Against Manchester United, he sometimes showed up in deeper zones when Agüero and Sterling moved between the lines. Consequently, Benjamin Mendy could push higher while City remained in a stable structure against counter-attacks.
The Spanish midfielder often attracts opponents and can play good passes between the lines. That’s why he comes deeper when City is already in the opponent’s half. Against Mourinho´s man-oriented approach, Silva´s dropping opened space for his teammates because one of the midfielders followed the captain to attack him immediately.
In those moments of freeing up, Silva shows his understanding of the dynamic of the game. When City played a diagonal pass to the wing to Mendy. Silva moves in the opposite direction of the defence. Mendy had no passing option except Silva, who kind of took over the position of the French defender. As a consequence, City gained space although the attack over the left side with Mendy failed.
Furthermore, Silva moves intelligently to support the build-up when Manchester United tried to press higher. His dropping was perfectly timed, and he was well-positioned. Thus, City could overplay the pressing by using the third man concept. In the end, Fernandinho received the ball in good position and the Citizens could take advantage of United´s missing compactness behind the first line of pressure.
All the things I explained to you above make David Silva a great player but details I am going to explain you now make him a special player. Personally, for a long time, I didn´t rate David Silva that high. I usually only saw him playing for Spain as a winger. He was got back then but in a time with Xavi and Iniesta it is hard to shine. When I started to follow City regularly last year because of the new system Guardiola implemented I started to realize why David Silva is a special player.
In the game against Chelsea, he made one particular move which was just a small detail but showed his intelligence. I analysed David Silva´s move and the resulting goal of Kevin De Bruyne here in German. So, check it out.
The move showed something I admire to see. David Silva is just an expert in opening space or passing lanes for his teammates. That makes him so special because not many players move that precisely so often. With those abilities, he balances the attacking game of Manchester City and opens space for dangerous attacking players like De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva.
Currently this season, David Silva plays 3,4 Key Passes per game and 88,5% of his passes reach his teammate. Those numbers do not show the true value of David Silva´s movement without a ball. Because it is so hard to explain I will show you a few examples.
Against Manchester United, he had those moments multiple times. He positioned perfectly which forced the defenders to have an eye on him which in return gave his teammates more space to act. Furthermore, with his positioning between the lines, he either pushed the opponent deeper or connected the Stones, Fernandinho etc. with the offensive players. Through him, Manchester City was able to get between the lines.
This was one good example of how precisely David Silva moves without the ball. The midfield line focused on Agüero while Silva moved between the lines. In the exact right moment, he freed himself up by moving diagonally to the side. Due to that movement, Chris Smalling feared following Silva because he would let too much space unoccupied. Not only did Silva free up himself. He also created space for Agüero by optimizing the distances between each other. Furthermore, the fullback and winger of Manchester United are focused on Mendy and Sterling on the wing. As a consequence, Laporte passed the ball to Silva who played a quick layoff pass to Agüero. You can also notice the advantage of centre-backs moving forward with the ball. Ander Herrera had to push out the line in that scene to press Laporte which opened the passing lines.
Another example of Silva´s high football IQ. Laporte again moved forward with the ball. Silva realized that Sterling was free. The Spanish midfielder perfectly applies the principles of positional play. Not every midfielder would move away from the ball instead of coming closer. But, David Silva understands that as long as his teammates are in an advantageous situation they shouldn´t pass the ball to him.
Here, he opened the passing line to Sterling by moving away and even showed with his arm that Laporte should consider passing the ball to City´s winger.
The last scene I want to show you does not directly demonstrate Silva´s ability to open space moreover his overall game intelligence and the whole City positional play. Laporte, who played a great game, was involved again. By advancing with the ball Laporte put pressure on the defence. David Silva moved deeper to give Laporte a passing option. Due to that movement, he attracted a defender and opened space for Sterling who immediately realized that.
Silva didn´t play the ball back to Laporte but moved it to Fernandinho who is completely free due to lack of compactness in that scene. All players of City know exactly where everyone else is positioned. That’s why Silva played the ball with the first touch to Fernandinho. The Brazilian midfielder played an amazing pass to Sterling. Although the winger couldn´t finish it was just a great play by City. With quick passing and movement in different directions which is hard to defend.
David Silva is clearly one of the crucial parts of the success story of the Citizens. His movement, understanding of dynamics and technical abilities under pressure are remarkable. You can clearly see that Silva not only trained in isolated passing drills but also in Rondos and small-sided games which all improve those qualities. Watching David Silva always reminds me of the level of detail football has. David Silva is one of the best in opening space and confusing a defence. It will be interesting to see how Guardiola will adjust his system when De Bruyne is completely fit again. Because in the current system there are only two spots for De Bruyne, D. Silva and B. Silva.