Kevin De Bruyne is the odds-on favourite to win the PFA Player of the Year title after producing a string of devastating performances this season. The Belgian midfielder has moved up to third in the Balon d’Or betting, behind only Lionel Messi and Neymar and ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. But while praise continues to be heaped upon De Bruyne, it is easy to forget that David Silva has been similarly brilliant alongside him. The 32-year-old midfielder is revelling in a deeper role in the team, conducting the Man City orchestra with aplomb and using his intelligence to feed the attackers with chance after chance.
Credit must go to Pep Guardiola for pulling both Silva and De Bruyne back into central midfield roles alongside Fernandinho, the holding midfielder whose positional discipline affords them the time and space with which to wreak havoc. The manager has indisputably been a force for good at The Etihad, revolutionising the English game in a similar fashion to Arsene Wenger back in 1997. It is therefore fitting that Guardiola twice masterminded punishing defeats against the Frenchman in the past fortnight, probably consigning him to retirement. But for all the positive tweaks Guardiola has made, for all the shrewd signings, he was reliant on the old guard to secure his first piece of silverware as Man City coach.
Sergio Aguero gave them the lead in the Carabao Cup final with a tremendous lob over David Ospina and returning skipper Vincent Kompany doubled up after the break at Wembley. Any faint hope of an Arsenal recovery was quashed in the 65th minute when Silva received the ball in a crowded penalty area, rolled Shkodran Mustafi with a deft drop of the shoulder and drove the ball into the far corner. The Spaniard wheeled away in the delight and was mobbed by his teammates, illustrating what a popular figure he is in the squad.
Four days later he was at it again. City’s midweek trip to The Emirates could have been a muted affair after the jubilation of the cup final, but Silva ensured they secured another impressive triumph. He was the team’s metronome, constantly linking the play and releasing Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva down the flanks with well-timed balls. In the first half he sent Sane bombing down the left, and when the German cut the ball back to Sergio Aguero, Silva timed his run into the box to perfection. He latched onto the Argentinean’s through ball and drove past Petr Cech to make it 2-0. Once again he gathered his teammates for a group hug and then went on to gracefully guide his team to another comfortable victory.
You could easily make an argument for Silva being the Premier League’s best player over the last eight years. Every time he gets the ball he looks forward and seeks to create. He has been peerless when it comes to vision, awareness, balance and range of passing. He has the silverware to show for it, but he has never really been in the conversation for individual glory. Perhaps it is down to his personality: Silva is not a gregarious, flashy player, and does not seek the limelight. Instead he is the ultimate team player. A forward like Ronaldo would love to play alongside Silva as it would mean chance after chance served up to him on a plate.
De Bruyne will certainly go on to claim the glory this season. That in itself is a bit of an anomaly, as the Player of the Year title typically goes to an explosive forward who grabs plenty of goals: Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy etc. But the importance of the central midfield role has been increasingly recognised of late, as N’Golo Kante seized glory last year after starring for Chelsea. It is hard to argue with the notion that De Bruyne has been the best player for the best team this season, so he richly deserves the award.
Silva has not racked up quite as many assists, and has one goal fewer, but in mitigation he has not played in as many games, and his value goes beyond cold, hard statistics. The Spaniard may be in the twilight of his career, but there is every reason to think he can continue to play an important role for the Citizens for several more years. There is intense competition for places at Man City, with the ever-improving Ilkay Gundogan in the mix, talented youngsters coming through and the constant threat of expensive reinforcements joining the revolution. But Silva need fear none of them. Unlike Yaya Toure and Aguero, his game has never relied on explosive pace, and he can continue to weave his magic in the midfield for many years, just like compatriot Andres Iniesta at Barcelona.
The fact that Silva has been a mainstay of a magnificent Spain team says it all. He has regularly kept the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara on the bench, and he can go on to play a starring role for his country at the upcoming World Cup. If you take a look at the World Cup odds you will see that Spain are the $8.50 fourth favourites to win it. They are not particularly strong in attack, but their midfield is hard to match, hence the short odds. Silva should nail down a starting berth in Russia, and competition for places is extremely strong in the Spanish squad. He stands alongside Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Isco, Alcantara, Marco Asensio and Koke, but he always gets in the team. That shows that Silva can walk into any team in the world, and he can certainly hold down a spot in Man City’s starting 11 for a while yet.